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Masks, small class sizes await as NEISD and NISD prepare to return some students to campus

Exposure to positive cases, though, could send students back home to quarantine

San Antonio – Many - though not all - San Antonio students will be heading back to school on Tuesday after weeks of virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When they return, it will be different than the school environment they’re used to. Plexiglass dividers, small classes, and nearly always present masks await. Behind it, the lurking threat of COVID-19 could end up sending students and staff back home to quarantine if they’re determined to have been “exposed” to a positive case.

Two of the city’s largest school districts, Northside ISD and Northeast ISD, are among those allowing some students to return to campus on Sep. 8, though they used different criteria for who is allowed back first.

NISD has focused on students in specialized settings - such as use Autism and behavior units - and elementary-level English learners. Secondary-level English learners can return the next Monday, Sep. 14.

Meanwhile, NEISD is allowing a wider array of students. NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said they prioritized special needs students, then families having issues with child care, and “we went down the list from there.”

“In some of our schools - in a lot of our schools, actually - we’re being able to accommodate everyone who wanted to come back in person on Tuesday.”

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Among these groups of students allowed to return, and those who will follow, there are still families who prefer to remain in virtual learning for now.

Both districts will require masks, at least in most situations, and utilize small class sizes. No more than six students will be in a class at NISD, while NEISD will keep its limit at five.

Chancellor said students would remain in those classrooms for most of the day, barring recess, lunch, or special classes like music. Though they’re on campus, she said, students will still be on devices as the teacher continues to do virtual lessons with the entire class.

“We want them to stay in one location for the most part, and we want them to stay with their pod, so to speak, at any event that we have to conduct contact tracing,” Chancellor said.

Both NEISD and NISD say contact tracing will be done in the case of a positive case on campus, which could end with exposed students being forced to quarantine at home.

Chancellor said they are relying on families and staff to play it safe when it comes to returning to campus.

“We’re going to be asking parents to take assessments of their children, as well as our employees. So please, if you know you’re exhibiting any symptoms, or if someone in your household has symptoms, you really want to air on the side of caution and don’t come into our buildings.”

Next steps are somewhat up in the air as to when more students will be allowed on campus. Chancellor said NEISD hopes to bring most of the other students who want to return back onto campus after another two weeks, though she said that could change.

Northside, however, has not provided a date for when it plans to allow the next group of students onto campus - early childhood students and “academically at-risk” students. NISD spokesman Barry Perez said they are monitoring health metrics like case numbers and positivity rates to help determine when they will bring in more students.

“We’re trying to give parents as a general rule, a two-week advance notice so that campuses would reach out to them, let them know that their child is going to be coming back to in-person - if they selected it - on this particular date.”

In the meantime, students will still join their peers in class - at least, classes online.

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