Houston ISD to keep schools open despite growing COVID-19 positivity rate

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston ISD just announced a change to its COVID-19 policy that adjusts the protocol for schools closing due to positivity rates.

Under the new changes announced Monday, the district will keep schools open for in-person learning.

If they were still operating under the old rules, they would be going back to virtual learning as positivity rates rise in Houston.

When the district laid out their reopening plans at the beginning of the year, they stated that everything would go virtual if Harris County's COVID-19 positivity rate averaged more than 7% over a 14-day period.

As of yesterday, the Harris County COVID-19 dashboard shows the average positivity rate for the past 14 days is at 7.4%, meaning under the old rules, the schools would've gone virtual.

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Instead, the district says they are working closely with multiple health departments to gather as much data as possible in order to help guide their future decisions about student and staff safety.

"As a parent, I would be upset just for you to say, 'Hey, if you say one thing, and we're going to go with it, and you cancel.' That's not how it works because some parents get confused with them having to work, and their children having to go to school," parent Tia Smith said.

"I feel like why are you putting the children and the teachers in jeopardy? It's not worth it," parent Sunshine Toliver said.

They said the bottom line is they are keeping in-person learning going.

ABC13 requested an interview with HISD leaders about the change on Tuesday, but the district declined. We also contacted each school board member, but didn't hear back from any.

The teacher's union reacted to the change to ABC13. Leaders said with TEA requiring in-person options, they aren't surprised by the change, but said the changes are impacting educators.

"The teachers right now are at the absolutely brink," Houston Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President, Andrew Dewey explained. "They are overwhelmed with work. They're overwhelmed with fear for their own safety."

Medical experts told ABC13 county positivity rates aren't the only metric schools should use to decide whether in-person learning should continue. "Some schools just have more space to spread out," Memorial Hermann Infectious disease specialist, Linda Yancey explained. "So, it's going to be safer for kids in those schools even with a high rate of transmission in the community."

Yesterday, Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke about the increase in COVID-19 positive cases at a press conference.

"Right now we're trying to stay ahead, and that's why we encouraging people to recognize what's taking place in other parts of the country, as well as in West Texas, and seeing how the virus is heading in this direction," Turner said.

The mayor was referring to El Paso, where residents were placed on curfew after the county has seen a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the area have spiked from 259 to 786 in less than three weeks - a 300% increase, according to Angela Mora, the director of the El Paso Public Health Department. And over the past 14 days, El Paso County has seen nearly 10,000 cases, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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COVID-19-related hospitalizations have spiked from 259 to 786 in less than three weeks, a 300% increase, according to the health department.

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