In a Dec. 10 Facebook post, McKinney Independent School District announced that it was closing Reuben Johnson Elementary due to a COVID outbreak. The ISD is moving classes online until Dec. 18, but expects to resume in-person classes Jan. 5, depending on what happens with the COVID winter surge. 

“The decision was made out of an abundance of caution and respect for the health of our students, staff, and parents,” district officials wrote in the Dec. 10 Facebook post. 

Sadly, their words are becoming all too familiar for North Texas families. As of this writing on Dec. 10, the U.S. has a total of 15 million cases and 293,000 deaths, and Texas has 1.4 million cases and nearly 24,000 deaths. And the numbers are increasing. 

Several North Texas schools have had to move temporarily to remote learning due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to a Nov. 9 NBC5 report. 

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The local news outlet reported that F.P. Elementary School in Dallas ISD closed for a few weeks shortly before Thanksgiving after several staff members tested positive for COVID. In Cedar Hill ISD, Plummer Elementary moved to 100 percent online flex learning in late November because a number of staff members were exhibiting COVID symptoms. 

Coppell ISD moved two campuses — Coppell High School and Coppell High School Ninth Grade Campus — to remote learning. Why? You guessed it: a high number of positive COVID-19 cases affecting students and staff. 

Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD closed in late November after 450 students, teachers, and staff came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

And the list keeps growing for schools moving temporarily to remote learning: Denton ISD, Krum ISD, Plano ISD, Sanger ISD, etc. 

On Tuesday, Frisco ISD reported a spike in COVID-19 cases with more than 1,000 student cases, despite changing their policy on COVID-19 exposure and quarantine measures.    

In the midst of COVID-19 spikes, schools across Southeast Texas are now following Frisco ISD’s lead after the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention issued new guidelines last week, the Beaumont Enterprise reported Dec. 10. 

“BISD continues to closely monitor all guidance from local, state and federal health agencies, and has adopted heightened reentry protocols with additional health measures in excess of the requirements from TEA,” BISD officials said in a letter to parents. 

The CDC currently defines close contact as being six feet from someone who is infected for 15 cumulative minutes over the course of 24 hours.

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To address COVID-19 spikes, some school officials have implemented a hybrid learning schedule. Plano ISD, for example, is using this model at the high schools “to reduce the number of students on campus at one time in order to provide a safe and socially distanced learning environment.”

There are parents who are asking when the ISD plans to end the hybrid learning, but school officials have no plans of ending it just yet. They’re monitoring the number and impact of test-confirmed on each campus to figure out how they might refine plans for the 2020-21 school year. 

In Plano, there are currently 148 active student confirmed COVID cases and 50 staff cases, according to the Plano ISD COVID dashboard.

Another reason for waiting to end hybrid learning is the lack of substitute teachers. Education Week Research Center conducted a COVID-19 survey in November to determine how the virus was affecting school districts. “Nearly three-quarters of responding school and district leaders reported that their need for substitute teachers has increased, as applications for the positions have gone down. That need is at least in part because of the need to quarantine teachers and staff,” according to a Nov. 24 Education Week report.

Of course, it doesn’t help that people are uncooperative when it comes to contact tracing. It’s another reason CDC officials updated the COVID-19 guidelines, shortening the quarantine time to seven days if you’ve been tested and 10 days if you haven’t.

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CDC officials say the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wear a mask. They mention that several studies have shown that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people can still transmit COVID to others.

“Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. Masks are an example of source control,” according to the CDC. “Masks are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected. Masks are not personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks or respirators.”

In a letter to parents, McKinney ISD officials said Reuben Johnson Elementary School will undergo extensive deep cleaning and disinfecting. “We encourage parents to follow recommended guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19 (washing hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing).” 

Christian McPhate

Christian has been working as a freelance journalist in North Texas for more than a decade. His stories have appeared in the Dallas Observer, the Houston Press, and Rolling Stone magazine. He covers a...