Books and backpacks

Books and backpacks

This story has been updated to reflect the newest state report from the Department of Health Services, which shows that the district reported five cases of COVID-19.

A local school district will not be reporting illnesses, including COVID-19 cases, out to the public “to respect the rights to privacy by those who are ill,” according to an email that was sent out to parents from Peaster ISD Superintendent Lance Johnson on Oct. 15.

“We will have, and have had, both staff and students that have caught a plethora of different illnesses, including STREP, the common cold, a stomach virus, Texas allergies, staph infections and COVID,” according to the email.

On Sept. 8, state education officials announced they would require school districts to file weekly reports on new COVID-19 cases among students, teachers or staff. Data, which is collected and updated through a collaboration between the Texas Education Agency and Department of State Health Services, includes any new COVID-19 cases that schools were notified of the previous week, whether the cases were contracted on or off campus, and whether the entire campus closed as a result.

The Weatherford Democrat had previously reported that state numbers indicated Peaster ISD had reported 0 cases of COVID-19 for staff or students. However, according to the latest district report through Oct. 18, the district reported two positive cases for grades seventh through 12th and three staff cases.

The TEA said it is the school district’s responsibility to provide accurate information regarding positive cases. Per state and federal law, school systems are required to notify their staff members, families in the district, or any instance of a new test-confirmed case of COVID-19.

“Any time there is a case they have to notify their school communities, then they would in turn have to notify the local health authority and then subsequently us as part of that statewide data collection,” a TEA spokesperson said. “The reporting requirements are just that — they’re requirements, and that district is required to report any instances of a positive case.

“The bottom line is these are reporting statutes, so if they’re not doing that then obviously they’re not following requirements.”

It was unclear what decisions could be made by the TEA in reference to a district’s noncompliance.

Parker County officials said they had not heard of any students or staff at Peaster coming down with COVID, but that it would not be reported to the county as their numbers come directly from DSHS.

In his email, Johnson cited low numbers of active cases in Parker County and the state, noting that illness is inevitable and “a part of life.”

“We will not be a platform to drive the fear narrative around any current illness, including COVID, or to create hysteria around any employee or student that may have had an illness, including COVID,” according to Johnson’s email. “The simple truth is, people have always gotten sick, and people will always get sick. Flu, COVID and Texas allergies are not going anywhere.

“We can choose to live and trust, or be paralyzed by fear, but our district will not report those illnesses out, because that is between the individual and their family.”

The Weatherford Democrat reached out to Johnson and district staff with questions, but did not receive a response.

As of the last update on Oct. 15, Parker County had reported a total of 2,218 total cases, with 106 active cases, 2,105 recoveries and 42 deaths. The county reported Peaster as having one positive case of COVID-19, which was listed as recovered.

“The COVID event continues to generate many emotions around our country, our state, and our community. Many times, those emotions are driven by which set of data you read and believe, which news station you watch, and which doctor you listen to,” according to Johnson’s email. “Fear seems to remain high, largely due to the narrative that continues to be aired on the nightly news station.

“The fact remains, through 10 months of the COVID event, Parker County and the state of Texas currently shows that 99.9% and 99.8%, respectively, of our population is not active with COVID.

As of Monday afternoon, Texas had reported 823,779 total COVID-19 cases, with 82,347 estimated active cases, according to the DSHS. There have been an estimated 726,231 recoveries, and 17,014 fatalities.

Prior to the start of school, Peaster ISD held a town hall meeting, where a slideshow presentation listed the district’s mitigation efforts, including daily self-screenings for flu/COVID symptoms for staff, parents and students, a flu-COVID symptom questionnaire for school volunteers and required temperature checks for staff, students and parents who show symptoms for flu/COVID while at school. One section also notes that “PISD welcomes all staff, students and parents who choose to wear a face covering” and that the district will have a limited supply available for students, staff and parent volunteers who want them.

In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order requiring all Texas to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.

Parker County officials told the Weatherford Democrat that they work with all entities within Parker County to assist with any mask compliance, and that each of the school districts have been given an allotment of personal protective equipment.

“Our protocol remains the same. If our attendance drops below 10% of our average daily attendance for three consecutive days, that is an indication that we have several students ill, which could be a result of multiple illnesses, and we need to close that campus for five days to allow students to recover,” according to Johnson’s email. “We deep clean each classroom daily, provide hand sanitizer, and reinforce good hygiene. Our schools are safe and clean. If a concern arises that requires us to change our protocol and practice, we will do so immediately and communicate the changes to our parents.

“I stand behind the decision to open school on August 19 on time in a traditional setting. Our students need to be in school, and it is hard to argue the success we have had through nine weeks of school.”

Reporter Autumn Owens contributed to this story.

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