DALLAS - Texas school districts received additional guidance from the state on COVID-19 safety procedures on Thursday.
The Texas Education Agency said students who test positive will still immediately be sent home. But in a major shift, schools don't have to send home students who may have been exposed. Instead, parents can opt to take their children home.
Districts will not have to trace close contacts if a student gets infected, though it will still report cases to county health departments.
Some districts, like Grand Prairie ISD, still plan to make campus case counts public.
"Well, we’re going to continue our dashboard that we update daily on our website," Sam Buchmeyer, Grand Prairie ISD spokesman. "We’ll also be closely working with the county that will probably be the entity doing that contact tracing."
Many districts in North Texas had already started planning for what to do when outbreaks and student absences occur.
Nearly all North Texas school districts are prepared for a return to all in-person learning later this month. The state's chief epidemiologist is concerned about a rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases.
"That 0-17 age group admissions is going up. We're seeing increases in new hospital admissions," said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, DSHS chief epidemiologist.
According to the DFW Hospital Council, there are 47 confirmed COVID-19 pediatric patients hospitalized in the region, which is approximately three times the volume a month ago.
Since children under of the age of 12 don't currently qualify for the vaccine and school districts cannot mandate mask wearing, school administrators are trying to plan for any COVID-19 spread on campus.
Jennifer Finley, Dallas ISD Director of Health Services, says every school campus will be stocked with 15 minute rapid COVID-19 tests. Those tests will be available to any student or staffer.
"We can go ahead and test them and those test kits come with all the appropriate PPE, N-95 masks, gowns, gloves," said Finley.
If a staffer tests positive they would be immediately sent home to quarantine. Students would wait in an isolation room until a parent or guardian could pick them up. Other safety steps would follow in consultation with the county health department.
"We do conduct the contact tracing in collaboration with the county. We still look at the seating charts to see who is in close proximity," Finley said.
Fort Worth ISD would follow similar safety measures.
A district spokesperson says a positive case in any classroom would lead to increased sanitizing efforts and contact tracing.
The decision to close down an entire classroom or campus would be done only after consultation with district and county health officials and the board of education.
"What we have seen over the past year, with good precautions we actually can get kids back in to school very safely with very limited spread," said Dr. Lee Beers, President, American Academy of Pediatrics. "It is so important for our kids to get back to in school learning it’s important for education, it’s important for their social and emotional development, it’s important for their health."
TEA guidance on remote learning says districts can receive state funding and count a student in attendance if the student is unable to attend school because a temporary medical condition, such as COVID-19. The TEA said the total time cannot be more than 20 days over the entirety of the school year for that student.