Houston-area schools top 4,000 COVID cases

BySarah Rafique KTRK logo
Saturday, August 21, 2021
School districts, TEA and courts all dealing with COVID differently
Conroe ISD moved to a "Safety Alert Level Four," and there have been more than 1,100 reported positive COVID-19 cases in the first two weeks of school.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- By Friday afternoon, Houston-area school districts reported more than 4,000 active COVID cases among students and staff. 13 Investigates tracked 27 area school districts this week for COVID cases. Just three days ago there were 1,809 cases. Now there are nearly three times as many.

Conroe ISD has more than any other ISD in the survey. Conroe reports 1,072 cases. It is 26% of all reported cases, but the district has just 9% of students in the survey.

Conroe ISD Superintendent Dr. Curtis Null released a video message to district families nearly begging them to wear masks to school next week in hope of avoiding cancelling events or closing any campuses.

The video featured above is from a previous report.

Health experts have expressed their concern about how contagious the delta variant is as students return to the classroom, which is leaving many parents frustrated with what they say is a lack of safe schooling options.

"I understand that it's about freedom and choices, so let people make their own choices, right? But at least keep the safety first," explained Neeraj Kumar, a Fort Bend ISD parent. "Give people the choice they want to make. Don't put the health of the kids who are the future of this nation at risk."

Kumar is one of several Fort Bend ISD parents who said they are worried about sending their children back to the classroom for in-person learning. So far, in Fort Bend ISD, virtual learning is not an option for all students.

"Being able to wear a mask, and making sure my kid is going virtual and she's getting the education that she needs, is my choice, and I think that needs to be respected," said Bhavani Natesan, another Fort Bend ISD parent. "I don't see that happening."

Here is Fort Bend ISD's full response when we asked them about a back-up plan as COVID cases rise in schools:

"The district will continue to review daily data about positive cases and the level of staff absences to determine ability to continue instruction on campuses.

When a situation warrants, the district will close all or part of a building for disinfection, notifying the occupants of that building in advance.

We will continue to work with the county health department and medical professionals to stay abreast of the current conditions to ensure the health and safety of students and staff.

In addition, we are opening a limited enrollment Virtual Learning Program (VLP) option on August 30, 2021.

Due to current concerns associated with COVID-19 and specifically the impact to younger children -those 11 years old and younger- with medical risks who are not eligible for vaccination, particularly those with certain medical conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the District committed to opening approximately 1,000 seats in a virtual school environment to address student need for those at higher risk of severe illness.

Over the last week, staff screened more than 5,000 applications for the VLP and 1,041 students were qualified as meeting the criteria.

The District is committed to providing the VLP even in the absence of provisions from the state legislature or Texas Education Agency (TEA) to fund virtual school. We are hopeful that the legislature will act soon to fund virtual school options while the state continues to deal with the pandemic."

Sirisha Bedhabudi was one of the many parents who applied. She was hoping to place her 5-year-old daughter in the district's virtual learning program, but recently found out she was not accepted.

Bedhabudi doesn't feel in-person school is a safe option, especially for children who are too young to get vaccinated.

"This is a day-to-day thing. I cannot keep counting 14 days every day of the entire year. It is really stressful," explained Bedhabudi.

Houston ISD is set to start school on Aug. 23.

When we asked about a back-up plan if the number of COVID cases gets out of hand, the district referred us to part of their back-to-school plan, which states:

"We do not anticipate full or partial school closures. Should deteriorating COVID-19 conditions warrant the closure of a campus, classroom, or portion of a classroom, that determination will be made on a case-by-case basis by HISD health & medical services in consultation with the Houston Health Department."

HISD's plan also says students who are unable to attend school because of a temporary medical condition are eligible for a maximum of 20 days of temporary virtual learning during this school year.

To view their full plan, visit the HISD website.

We also reached out to Conroe ISD.

A spokesperson said the district had the highest number of COVID cases reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic on Monday, Aug. 16. They did not issue any information about a specific back-up plan.

Conroe ISD's also issued a statement to ABC13 on its plan.

"The rise of COVID-19 cases in our community is a concern. On Monday, Conroe ISD had the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. We are tracking this rise in cases and working closely with our local health entities on monitoring this current wave. We continue to recommend and strongly encourage that all employees, students, and families take all precautions necessary to protect one another and keep our buildings open. Regular hand washing, staying home when sick, and wearing a mask or face covering as appropriate are practices that helped keep our schools open last year. All buildings and classrooms are e-misted daily along with being cleaned in accordance with our standard practices. Prevention of disease transmission in our schools takes all of us working together."