NEISD & NISD won’t roll back in-classroom instruction in face of worsening pandemic

NEISD spokeswoman says “vast majority” of cases coming from off campus

Despite new COVID-19 cases being reported at Northside ISD and NEISD, the districts don’t plan to make any big changes.

SAN ANTONIO – With a positivity rate over 9% and the seven-day rolling average for cases a little under 300, the pandemic appears to be taking another turn for the worse in Bexar County.

However, two of the largest school districts -- Northside ISD and Northeast ISD -- do not have any plans to roll back their in-person instruction, which has already been largely re-opened for any students who want to return.

“At this point, for those kids who are in person, who are in our buildings, we really have made a commitment to those students and to their families to provide them the best learning environment,” said Barry Perez, NISD spokesman.

Since late last week, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has set the risk level for schools set at “moderate,” which includes recommendations like stopping sports competitions and prioritizing in-person instruction to “special needs students, at-risk students and students who lack access to resources.” However, Metro Health can only recommend those changes, not order them, and NISD does not appear ready to follow those recommendations.

The district has opened up its campuses to all students who want to come back, with the exception of some families that had missed a deadline to sign up for a return to campus, Perez said. The district is trying to balance the same needs it has been since August, he said.

“Work to balance the need we have to ensure students and staff are kept safe with the need to address learning loss and instructional needs of individual students,” Perez said.

And while NISD would not be rolling back its in-person learning, Perez said it has followed Metro Health’s recommendations in pausing efforts to reach out to families of students that had been struggling with virtual learning and invite them to return to campus.

NEISD has also opened its campuses up to the students who want to return, and more than half of them have, says spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor. Though unlike NISD, the district is continuing its outreach efforts to struggling virtual learners.

“We feel like school is is a safe place right now. So we are encouraging that, but we won’t mandate it,” Chancellor said.

While the district saw a spike in new cases last week -- 40 students and 19 employees, compared to 15 students and 17 employees the week before -- Chancellor said the “vast majority” of cases they have seen through their contact tracing efforts have come from off-campus.

“We are seeing virtually no spread. They are simply just being identified, the cases, at our school. So, essentially, you would still have the same number of cases in the community that you would,” Chancellor said.

“You could argue that it’s safer for kids to be masked up with safety protocols all day than perhaps doing whatever else it is they might be doing.”

On the surface, Metro Health data would seem to support that idea, showing just six recorded “outbreaks” so far, where there was at least one in-school transmission.

However, the data also appears to be incomplete. The number of NEISD and NISD cases alone is 573 -- with more from NISD counting off-campus staff -- but the Metro Health data only shows 423 cases for all campuses so far.

Asked about the discrepancy, a Metro Health spokeswoman said the data may just not have been reported to them yet.

While neither NISD nor NEISD plan to force any of their in-person learners to return to virtual learning, both districts say parents may choose to make that switch.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Bill Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.