WASKOM — A Waskom ISD and the entire Wiley College campus have had to take precautions against recent COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, just weeks after the start of the 2021-22 school year.

As COVID-19 numbers in Harrison County doubled over the past week, according to Harrison County Judge Chad Sims on Monday, the two Harrison County schools have taken measures to stop the spread of the virus on their campuses.

Waskom ISD Superintendent Rae Ann Patty said the district made the decision to close the elementary campus just three days after opening for the school year, due to a large number of staff members out due to COVID-19.

The elementary campus will remain closed throughout the week and students will return next Monday. No instruction is happening online during this week and Patty said the missed days will not need to be made up later in the school year as enough days were worked into the school calendar to allow for this week to be taken off.

Wiley College

Wiley College, which began their school year at the start of August, has been on campus-wide quarantine since Aug. 11 due to COVID-19 cases on campus. The quarantine is set to end on Aug. 23, Wiley College officials said Tuesday.

"Campus leadership instituted several precautionary measures including mandatory testing upon students' return to campus, random testing, a mandatory employee vaccination policy, and a campus-wide quarantine process," Wiley College spokeswoman Maya Brown said Tuesday. "Students also were eligible to earn a $500 tuition credit for vaccinating, wearing their masks, and agreeing to learning more about how reduce the spread of COVID-19 as part of the Wiley College Safe Community Program."

Despite these precautions, Brown said COVID-19 positive cases have occurred on campus since the start of the semester.

"As COVID-19 cases surge in the nation and specifically Texas, Wiley College has taken preventive measures by instituting our campus-wide quarantine process," she said. "As the campus re-opened, 41% of students returned to campus vaccinated and 51 students were vaccinated on campus as part of the Safe Community Program. Even with those preventive measures, Wiley College has had COVID-19 positive cases. Therefore, Wiley College has taken a preventive measure by utilizing our campus-wide quarantine protocol to decrease any spread of the virus. As of Saturday, the college has not had any reported new cases of COVID-19."

Prevention

Patty said Waskom ISD is spending the week off to deep clean the elementary campus and upon students’ return next week, social distancing measures will be implemented on campus.

“This year, the major change is that the Texas Education Agency public health document and Gov. Greg Abbot’s executive orders do not allow schools to send people home for close contact,” Patty said. “I understand the intent was to give parents a choice to quarantine their students and make the best decision for their students. Last year, Waskom would have quarantined staff members and students for close contact. This may have slowed the spread when people were asymptomatic. We will encourage our staff to take the same precautions and use the mitigating measures as last year. We would encourage our parents and community to keep your students home when they are ill as well.”

Patty said if a child is running fever, she encourages parents to monitor them closely at home.

“Last year, Texas schools could move students to online learning if they were a close contact or COVID-19 positive,” she said. “Still, this year we are only allowed to provide remote conferencing for students who meet one of the following criteria for 20 days this school year: The student’s temporary medical condition is documented by a licensed physician in the U.S. The documentation must include a statement from the physician that the student is to remain confined to their home or a hospital. The student is being excluded from on-campus attendance because of a test result, formal diagnosis, or suspicion of having a communicable condition, or the student has been identified as a close contact for COVID-19 either by public health officials, the school, or the parent.”

Patty said she wanted to assure the Waskom community the district is doing everything within its power to address COVID-19 concerns.

“We want our community to know we are very cautious, given the new regulations and protocols,” she said. “Please get in touch with your child’s school if they are ill and remaining at home. Students must be counted absent and are subject to the attendance laws just as in years past. We can help with this if you call us and tell us your child is COVID-19 positive or considered a close contact.”

Other schools

Marshall ISD Superintendent Richele Langley said her district is taking similar precautions to ensure COVID-19 safety.

“As of Aug. 13, Marshall ISD had .006% of staff out due to COVID-19 and .007% of students out due to COVID-19,” Langley said on Monday.

Langley said the district is taking precautions and measures and prayerfully hopes to keep its COVID-19 numbers for both students and staff low. She encourages those who want to wear masks to do so and those who don’t are free not to wear a face covering. Langley said the district is also doing contact tracing. The Centers for Disease Control also encourages students and staff to frequently wash their hands and practice social distancing when possible.

“As of today, Marshall ISD is in a good spot with a minimum of COVID-19 cases. We are doing contact tracing and letting people know so that they can be proactive,” Langley said. “We are suggesting masks, as needed, and personal responsibility in attempting to keep the spread of COVID-19 at a minimum. As of today, we have a strong pool of substitute teachers, so we hope that we will not have to close a campus due to COVID-19.”

Marshall and Hallsville ISD have been in school since Aug. 12.

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