Schools in San Antonio press forward with in-person learning amid new wave of COVID-19 cases

NISD, NEISD, SAISD say in-person learners can stay even as Metro Health school risk level moves to ‘high’

Local school districts do not plan to rollback on-campus learning despite increase in cases

SAN ANTONIO – The three largest school districts in Bexar County will allow in-person learners to stay on campus as cases rise and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District puts the school risk level at “high.”

Metro Health’s recommendations for high risk, which it posted online Monday, include not holding in-person instruction. The department, though, does not have the power to enforce that recommendation.

Northside ISD and San Antonio ISD have both pumped the brakes somewhat on bringing more students back to campus. But both districts, along with Northeast ISD, say that students who are already on-campus will be able to stay there.

“Right now, our intent is not to change our plans. We are not looking at any plan that would have us in an all virtual model,” said NISD spokesman Barry Perez.

The community’s positivity rate for tests has increased to more than 15% and the seven-day case average was 993 as of Monday night. However, the districts appear to view the situation as safer inside school walls.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez told staff in a letter on Monday that the district’s recorded positivity rate, based on its testing programs, is much lower - less than 1%. NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said the district has not seen many cases transmitted on campus.

We’re staying open because our schools are safe. We’re staying open because our data shows there’s no spread. We’re staying open because our safety protocols are effective,” Chancellor said.

Chancellor also pointed to Metro Health data that shows just seven instances of cases transmitted in Bexar County schools this year. The data, though, which shows 881 total cases, may also be incomplete.

NISD and NEISD provided KSAT with a tally of over 1,100 student and staff cases from just their districts - though NISD’s numbers also include some presumptive cases. It was not immediately clear if they would have been reflected in Metro Health’s statistics.

In any case, a return to remote-only learning is not completely within the districts’ powers.

Guidance from the Texas Education Agency allows for schools to temporarily shut down in response to situations like an outbreak on campus. However, a proactive closure and return to remote-only learning could affect state funding, unless the district made up the time later in the year.

“But I will tell you that the biggest factor in any decision we make is not going to be the financials,” Perez said. “It’s going to be the safety of students and staff.”

But no matter the local guidance, it will be the district’s view of that safety that will count.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.