SAN ANTONIO – As COVID-19 cases rise and the Delta variant continues to make its way across the state, concerns vary among parents, students and staff members in the Northside Independent School District area.
“It is a big concern for us,” said Juan Hernandez, a parent and teacher. “My kids are just under the age to get vaccinated, so we are masking up for sure. I know a lot of people may think, ‘I have a right. This is what they are recommending, but this is what the governor is saying,’ but we have a responsibility to take care of one another.”
“I am not worried,” said David Sedillo, a grandfather of a 4-year-old boy. “To me, it is like another flu. It is going to be around for a while. My grandson is 4 years old. He is a kid and will run around like a kid. The adults can mask up if they want, but I don’t think kids should because studies say COVID is not much of a threat to them,”
“Oh yes, I am concerned,” said Frank Robinson. “I don’t want them to catch that virus, but a lot of kids know what is going on right now and want to mask up. I know my grandbaby will be masking up.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guideline recommendations saying children over the age of 2 should mask up, whether they are vaccinated or not.
With Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order in place that lifted the mandatory mask mandates, the district cannot require students or staff to wear masks in classrooms.
Because of that, many in the American Federation of Teachers Union are worried.
“While we do believe it is very important for students to get back to normalcy, and by that, we mean back to face-to-face instruction. We also understand that COVID is not dead,” said Wanda Longoria, the president of Northside AFT. “We have heard from bus drivers. We have heard from custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries and teachers. Ultimately, teachers want to be safe, know they are safe, and know there are layers of mitigation in the district that are going to protect them.”
Those mitigations include smaller classroom sizes for social distancing purposes and a new filtration system.
“I am happy to see the kids again,” said Alexandra Marquez, a special education teacher with NISD. “I want nothing more than to have a normal school year like everybody else, but I want us to be safe more than anything else.”
She said she feels like they are experiencing a repeat of what they went through last year, with more cases and new variants out there.
“I feel that we have a complacent school district and an unclear plan as to how to be more transparent,” Marquez said. “Last year, I would ask so many questions on behalf of others, and I was hit with the HIPPA response. It becomes a gamble every single day that you walk into your classroom, especially if a student was absent that day. Are they out because of COVID? As opposed to other campuses where teachers were at least made aware.”
She said she would like better communication to be first and foremost and the district’s consideration of their mitigation terms.
Barry Perez, a spokesperson for the district, said they plan to implement the same protocol they had in place last year as far as sanitation stations, plexiglass, and more protections. He said though they are looking into ways to enhance the filtration system, smaller class sizes may be impossible.
“To make sure everyone is 6 feet apart, it becomes a logistics problem and not something in many cases is realistic,” Perez said. “We also do understand many requests have been for us to be stricter on the wearing of masks, but with the governor’s executive order, we do not have flexibility with that. Our hands are tied. While we will highly encourage the use of face masks, we cannot mandate those. They are not mandated for students or staff.”
In addition to continuing its safety protocols, Perez said the district would also continue working with different providers to set up pop-up clinics for anyone wanting to get the vaccine.
Marquez said she hopes this year is different and more organized than last year, but it all boils down to the students’ health in every regard.
“This last year, I saw many students who suffered for a lot of mental health reasons,” Marquez said. “Not just regards to personal lockdown and having to learn virtually, but when they saw their loved ones sick at home and when they weren’t able to see grandma or grandpa or tia because they were sick with COVID and they worried if they were the one that brought it home.”
“In a sense, it does kind of put my mind at ease to know they themselves may not suffer from it as much, but I am worried about the entire child, not just their physical health but their mental health as well as their families at home,” she continued.
The teachers’ union, parents and the school district are highly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
“The biggest concern right now is that we don’t know enough about this (Delta) variant, how strong it is, what the numbers look like in Texas or in our area,” Longoria said. “We do know that we are increasing in COVID cases, and that is a concern. The smart thing would be for our communities to understand that it is important to get vaccinated if they want to remove the mask. Look, I don’t want to wear a mask, but with the Delta variant out there, I am wearing a mask.”