Education News

HISD Again Changes School Closure Protocols After Reaching Critical Limit

The rise in COVID positivity rates and changes in HISD’s reopening plan come just a week after Houston classrooms reopened for in-person learning.

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan gets her temperature screened on her forehead before entering a school facility.
Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan gets her temperature checked before entering a virtual learning center on the first day of school.

For the second time in two weeks, the Houston Independent School District is changing its COVID-19 protocols.

In a message late Monday to parents, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan announced the district would change its process for returning to virtual school, after it had met its previous threshhold to trigger campus closures.

Previously, the district’s guidelines mandated that all schools revert to virtual learning if the positivity rate for COVID-19 cases in the region passed 7%.

Harris County surpassed that, reaching 7.4% Monday. That would have prompted remote learning, and parents and teachers called for the district to follow its plan.

Instead, HISD announced it will change its process for deciding when to close schools, adding more data and metrics to move from one risk level to another.

As a result, in-person learning will continue.

“Please know we are continuing to work closely with local public health officials and monitor local public health conditions. All decisions are being made with an enhanced focus on two things — providing a high-quality education for all students and improving the safety of both our students and staff,” Lathan wrote.

Lathan said that the district will review data from Harris County Public Health and the Houston Health Department, plus use guidance and input from other agencies, including local hospitals, the Greater Houston Partnership and the Texas Education Agency.

Lathan did not detail specific metrics that will be added to HISD’s gauge of COVID risk.

“I am confident that if we work together to adhere to all safety measures, our schools can be productive academic environments," she wrote. "We are regularly re-evaluating and updating our practices and protocols to improve the safety of our schools.”

HISD’s previous reopening guidelines relied on the county’s 14-day positivity rate for COVID testing as a threshold to trigger virtual learning. HISD will now add other metrics.

The rise in COVID positivity rates and changes in HISD’s reopening plan comes just a week after Houston classrooms reopened for in-person learning for the first time since March for more than 80,000 students.

Last week, HISD had to quickly close 16 campuses due to cases of COVID-19, and since then has loosened its rules for closing schools temporarily for cleaning.

Some Houston parents and teachers were watching the public safety data, hoping HISD would follow its original COVID-19 plan and close schools.

“Let me go ahead and apologize — I teach math — so it’s not a linear model, it’s an exponential growth model and it has the potential to get out of hand, really quickly,” said Michelle Williams, president of the Houston Education Association and a teacher at Kashmere High.

Tish Ochoa, who has a daughter enrolled in HISD, said that she worried about community spread, and that HISD would lose trust with educators if it didn’t follow its plan.

We basically just reopened," Ochoa said. "But I think the district has to keep to their word in terms of their plan."

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