School districts close to prevent exposures across communities
Denton County schools, including Pilot Point ISD and Aubrey ISD, announced Tuesday they will continue their extended closures through April 3 with the possibility of extending the break as needed.
Tioga ISD has extended its closure to March 27 and will reevaluate the situation weekly, Superintendent Charles Holloway said Wednesday.
Local, county and state officials are working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control to determine what is the best course of action to protect public health.
“We’d rather say we went overboard,” PPISD Superintendent Dan R. Gist said. “The one thing we don’t want to say is we didn’t take enough action.”
Belding agreed and also said because the situation is constantly changing the district needs to keep flexible.
“Our focus is to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff and family, and so we’re working very hard to take the precautions to ensure that we’re responding in the best way possible for our kids and our community,” he said.
TISD is taking it week by week, Holloway said, in the hopes that a resolution is found to the public health crisis sooner than later.
“We’ll give the parents as much notice as we can because they’re the ones that we’re putting in a bind here for child care and all that,” Holloway said.
After examining the situation, he said, “if in fact something miraculously should happen over the next two weeks, [the district] can be back in operation within 48 hours.”
Monday morning, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that STAAR testing requirements would be waived for the 2019-2020 school year.
“I really appreciate Gov. Abbott and Commissioner [Mike] Morath for making that decision,” Belding said. “It just takes one more item or stressor off the list of our students and our teachers. We just don’t have to worry about that and trying to figure out how, logistically, we’d be able to make that work.”
He also expressed thanks for the efforts state Rep. Jared Patterson took before the decision was announced.
“I think he was the first legislator that sent a letter out requesting the consideration to give the waiver on STAAR for the year,” Belding said.
Law- and decision-makers from the top down have been supportive, Gist said, and he credited his “unbelievable staff” with working hard through these challenges.
Each of the districts planned to ensure their staff members receive pay from the districts’ budgets for the time the physical portion of the schools are closed.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Gist said.
Morath has indicated that state-level education funding will remain intact, Holloway said.
This isn’t a vacation for the school district staff members; both Gist and Belding said their districts will work on providing instructional support through distance learning.
The staff members in Pilot Point were allowed Tuesday to pick up their technological equipment and other resources from their classrooms to be able to teach from home.
Belding hopes remote instruction can be counted as in school hours by the Texas Education Agency, he said. The districts have not received much feedback on how lenient the state plans to be if there are any hiccups in that type of instruction.
PPISD mailed out letters districtwide Wednesday morning, Gist said, to try to fill any information gaps for “those that can’t receive that through social media or our website or the callout.”
“We’ve taken every step that we know to get that information to them and to set them up as best we can,” Gist said.
PPISD can check out individual devices to families of students who otherwise do not have access to a device. The administration is also attempting to provide internet hotspots to help connect members of the school community who have not had access to the internet.
Tioga ISD is also planning to provide hotspots for families without access, Holloway said. Fourth grade through 12th grade students have access to Chromebooks already, he said, and the kindergarten through third-grade teachers are working on providing families with instructional materials either digitally or in hardcopy form, which would go out either at meal pickup or through the mail, if needed.
Aubrey ISD took preventive measures against COVID-19 through additional deep cleaning of all campuses on March 13, Aubrey ISD Web and Communications Specialist Amy Ruggini said.
On top of the deep clean, the ISD extended the spring break closure another week, Superintendent David Belding said, and it will continue to evaluate what the administration feels is the proper response to the pandemic.
“An electrostatic sprayer [was] used to disinfect all schools, buses and classrooms,” Ruggini said. “The sprayer places a positive charge on the chemical disinfectant before it leaves the tank.”
It works this way so that particles sprayed stick to both neutral negatively charged surfaces, she said.
“The fine mist that is emitted clings to every surface,” she said. “The result is a complete disinfection. The spray is safe and non-toxic.”
The district plans to do at least an additional cleaning before reopening the school buildings.
In Pilot Point, any family with school-aged children can pick up food for those children, with the children present. The pickup locations are at the back of the intermediate school or the Pioneer Baptist Church at 100 Cumberland Trail, Valley View, from 8-9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. during the week.
“I don’t want to see kids go hungry,” Gist said. “A lot of kids depend on meals from the school.”
Meal pickup was scheduled to start in Aubrey ISD at Brockett and Monaco elementary schools on Thursday, after press time, from 10 a.m.-noon. It is also a curbside service to help practice social distancing, and the food given will be for breakfast and lunch, given at the same time.
Tioga ISD has pickup set from 5-6 p.m. at Tioga High School for all students, as well.
The input AISD is receiving from the state and county level, he said, is helping local leaders in their decision-making.
“Even though a young student without any medical issues may not really show too much illness, if they were to give it to a parent or a grandparent, we wouldn’t want that to happen,” Belding said.
There are also members of the school community who are at higher risk of developing a serious case of coronavirus if they were exposed to it at school.
“When it comes time to reopen, we’re going to work with parents on them making decisions on sending their kids back to school,” Belding said.
On March 13, the University Interscholastic League announced it was suspending all UIL events—academic, athletic or music—until March 29, with the note that it “is a fluid situation,” and there will be more announcements made as needed, according to a statement on uiltexas.org.
Gist said he’s “never seen anything like it.”
The closest correlation Belding could make, he said, was to how UIL responded to H1N1, also known as the swine flu.
“The response to this and the feeling that we need to get in front of this, there’s a lot more intensity to it right now, and that leads me to believe, the experts that are out there are giving us the warning that everyone needs to take this seriously, and we’re trying to heed the advice of those experts,” Belding said, adding he “would rather be cautious than cavalier about it.”
Visit pilotpointisd.com for alerts. AISD is offering information on the status of different events and for updates about COVID-19 at aubreyisd.net/Page/9973. For TISD, see tiogaisd.net.
Staff Writer Rowan Lehr contributed to this report.