School districts at edge of Bexar County face different sets of rules

Boerne ISD hopes to get exemption for Van Raub and Fair Oaks Ranch Elementary schools

Boerne ISD wants to open two campuses for face-to-face instruction but a directive from Metro Health is complicating things for the district.

Updated July 24:

The Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD school board voted Thursday night that all students will participate in remote learning from Aug. 13 until Sept. 8.

Original story:

When school starts on Aug. 12, most parents of Boerne ISD students will have a choice whether to send their kids back or keep them home to learn remotely.

Most, but not all.

Although Van Raub Elementary and Fair Oaks Ranch Elementary are located in Bexar County, the schools can not have any students on-campus for in-person learning until after Labor Day (Sep. 7), in accordance with a health directive from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

So, those two campuses will be playing by a different set of rules than the district’s other 10 schools, no matter what parents might have picked otherwise.

“Between 66% and 75% of those parents have said ‘We want to send our kids back in person,‘” Boerne ISD Director of Communications Bryan Benway said.

RELATED: No face-to-face classes, extra-curricular activities until after Sept. 7, San Antonio health department says

The return to school has been a thorny issue as parents, teachers, and officials all argue over the balance between safety and the need for children to return to classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas Education Agency said on July 17 that districts could conduct lessons remotely for up to eight weeks.

The same day, Metro Health Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo issued a directive, forbidding in-person instruction on Bexar County school campuses. Metro Health has maintained the order applies to all schools, public and private, though Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said such orders do not apply to religious schools.

Public school districts, though, appear to be bound by such local orders - even if the majority of their schools lie outside of Metro Health’s jurisdiction

Benway, who says the COVID-19 situation in Boerne and the area where the schools are is vastly different from San Antonio, says Boerne ISD hopes it can find a way to get an exemption or “waiver.”

“We’ve had several conversations with both the TEA, the governor’s office, and we’re working with other school districts around us to try and see if there is a situation where we’re able to open up these two schools,” Benway said.

Metro Health, however, says no exceptions have been given so far.

Boerne ISD isn’t alone in having to develop different plans.

Both Medina Valley ISD and Comal ISD are also offering parents the choice on whether to send students back or learn remotely when school starts on Aug. 25, though students at Lucky Ranch Elementary in Medina Valley ISD or five different schools in Comal ISD will only be able to attend classes remotely.

The affected Comal ISD schools are: Indian Springs Elementary, Specht Elementary, Timberwood Park Elementary, Kinder Ranch Elementary, and Pieper Ranch Middle School.

In a letter to parents on July 17, Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim said he wanted to “clearly state that I disagree with this directive. Comal ISD was not invited to have any input into this decision or have an opportunity to share with the Bexar County Health Authority our plan for returning to on-campus instruction before having our schools shut down.”

While Comal ISD spokesman Steve Stanford told KSAT Thursday that it would welcome any intercession from a higher level that would let it open up its five Bexar County campuses, “we pretty much feel like it’s out of our hands at the moment.”

It is not yet clear when or how the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD plans to open up its campuses. Its website noted on Thursday that students at both Corbett Junior High School and Rose Garden Elementary, which are in Bexar County, would have to learn remotely until after Labor Day, but “no decisions regarding the Guadalupe County campuses have been made at this time.”

The SCUCISD board of trustees will consider options for the return to campuses during a Thursday night meeting.

RELATED: All of the start dates, COVID-19 plans for San Antonio-area school districts

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.