SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE 8/16/21: North East ISD sent the following letter to parents regarding its stance on masks after a judge allowed Bexar County’s mask mandate for public schools to remain in effect:
“North East ISD is aware that a District court judge has granted Bexar County and the City of San Antonio a temporary injunction against Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning masks.
“Based on our legal guidance, we believe that the Texas Supreme Court’s stay order issued Sunday night applies to this order as well, and was intended to ensure that Governor Abbott’s order banning mask mandates remain in place until the Supreme Court rules on the case. In addition, we expect that the Governor will appeal today’s temporary injunction immediately.
“Rather than putting our community through constantly changing guidance as legal proceedings continue, we will continue to strongly encourage the use of face coverings while we wait for the Texas Supreme Court to decide whether today’s temporary injunction is enforceable.
“It is unfortunate that schools and our community are being caught in the middle of this legal and political fight. It is unfair to our parents, students and staff.”
In a video to parents on Friday, North East Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Sean Maika strongly recommended the use of face masks to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections on campus and says if the spread continues, the district may be forced to close schools.
With Monday starting off the school year, district officials are being even more cautious as they’re seeing more transmission between students at some campuses that have been open since earlier this summer than what was recorded last year.
Maika said he thought the data collected during the summer school program was sufficient enough to make mask-wearing optional.
“My staff and I have been diligently monitoring COVID-19 cases on our campuses. Our summer school program was the largest ever, but we saw low numbers of positive cases in our schools even though masks were optional. Our year-round school, Castle Hills Elementary, opened on July 19th and cases were initially low. This data led me to believe that a personal choice for masks was sufficient,” he said in the video.
Maika also pointed out that less than 1% of students and employees reported tested positive for COVID-19 last year.
“However, the more our community is impacted by a rise in positive cases, the more our schools are impacted, too. The data we are seeing now is different than last year or even this summer,” he said.
Maika painted a different picture about the case numbers the district is currently reporting.
“First, we are seeing an increase in cases among students and staff. At the beginning of each week, we post the case numbers of the previous week to our Critical Updates webpage and report them to state and local health officials,” the superintendent said in the video.
Maika also pointed out that it was a rarity to have cases spread on campus last year, and the data is showing an increase.
“This year’s data does not reveal the same trend. To date, at Castle Hills, we have seen 18 confirmed student cases of COVID-19 and four staff cases. Also, our data shows 12 of those student cases were due to close contact at the school. In contrast, there were only 11 total reported cases at Castle Hills last year,” Maika said.
While the data is showing mitigation strategies are necessary, Maika said they are not enough to stop the spread.
“Currently, there is a mask mandate in place due to the city and county being granted a temporary restraining order against Governor Abbott,” Maika said. “But regardless of how that plays out in the courts, moving forward – I strongly recommend that we all wear face masks to reduce transmission on campus. If spread continues, we may be forced to close schools.”
Maika said he understands the need for a medical exemption for some students and asked parents to complete an exemption form if they believe their child requires one. Parents should reach out to the campus nurse if they have questions, he said.
The superintendent also asked parents to continue to monitor their children for any COVID-19 symptoms and keep them at home if they exhibit any. Testing will be available on campuses, but parents must provide permission.
If a student is required to quarantine, the district will offer remote learning so they can complete their school work without being counted absent.
Maika concluded by saying the community needs to work together, just like it did last year, to keep schools open.
“By working together, I know we can do it again. We will continue to use data to make informed decisions to ensure our campuses remain open,” he said.