Waco ISD provides plan for safely welcoming back students for in-person learning

Superintendent strongly encourages wearing masks in district buildings and getting vaccinated.

By Susan Kincannon

As we prepare for the start of the 2021-2022 school year and COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state, I know that you have questions about how Waco ISD will work to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading in our schools and other facilities.

There is no doubt that this year will look different from last year – and not just because all of our students will be learning in person this year. In May and again last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued executive orders prohibiting school districts from requiring anyone to wear a mask. Last week, the Texas Education Agency issued new public health rules, which prevent school districts from requiring students in close contact with someone who tested positive to quarantine, leaving the decision of whether or not to quarantine up to each student’s parents/guardians.

In response to the latest guidance provided by the Texas Education Agency, Waco ISD will do the following:

· Encourage the wearing of masks in all district buildings,

· Encourage employees and students to get vaccinated when eligible,

· Conduct contact tracing,

· Notify parents/guardians if their child is considered a close contact for a positive case of COVID-19,

· Notify faculty and staff if they are considered a close contact for a positive case of COVID-19,

· Update the district’s COVID-19 Dashboard at wacoisd.org/dashboard,

· Continue the use of rapid testing for students and staff,

· Provide assignments to students who are unable to attend school after testing positive for COVID-19 or whose parents/guardians opt for them to quarantine after being identified as a close contact, and

· Monitor the attendance and achievement of students adjusting plans as needed.

In May, I announced that all students would return to in-person learning for the upcoming school year. In part, this was a recognition that the state waivers that allowed us to offer remote instruction last year had expired. Moreover, though, my decision was based on the evidence that our students do better when they are physically present in the classroom. There were significant differences between in-person and remote students in grades, attendance, engagement and other measures of student success. Our families saw it too, and by the end of the last school year, many students who had started out the year learning remotely returned to the classroom.

Students who are absent this year because they have tested positive or who choose to quarantine after being identified as close contacts will receive excused absences. Just like before the pandemic, teachers will send home assignments, and students will be expected to keep up with their work while they are out.

Right now, only about 3% of students between the ages of 12 and 17 in McLennan County have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and of course, students younger than 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. There are two things that you can do to protect our students who haven’t been vaccinated, yourself and everyone else around you.

First, if you are eligible to get vaccinated but haven’t done so yet, make a plan to get vaccinated. We’ll be hosting our annual Family Fest from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. this Saturday at University High and Waco High, and free COVID-19 vaccinations (as well as required school immunizations) will be available at both locations. You can pre-register for Saturday’s clinics at covidwaco.com. Click on the red ‘Schedule Your Appointment’ button.

If those times/locations aren’t convenient for you, you can sign up for other vaccination clinics online at covidwaco.com, through local pharmacies, or by contacting your primary care provider. Waco ISD will also continue to host frequent vaccination clinics.

Next, wear a face covering in shared spaces inside our schools and other buildings. While not required, wearing a face mask around other people remains one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect them and yourself. We’ll continue to provide face masks for employees and students. 

Reading this message, you might be disappointed that we’re still dealing with COVID-19 as we get ready to start a new school year. I am disappointed about that too, but I’m also incredibly excited about the new school year. This is an incredible community, and together, we’ll make this an incredible year for our kids. We are Waco ISD.

Susan Kincannon, Ed.D., is superintendent of Waco ISD.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].