Richardson ISD campus returns to remote learning, trustees hold emergency meeting on future school closures

Several North Texas school districts are dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases on their campuses, forcing some to send students back to remote learning.

The Richardson ISD school board had an emergency meeting Friday morning to talk about an increase in COVID-19 cases in the district. They fear several campuses may be forced to shut down like Brentfield Elementary did this week.

Nearly a quarter of Brentfield's students were absent this week because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or were quarantined. Administrators decided to hold classes online until the campus re-opens in 10 days.

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The school board heard from parents passionate about the district’s mask mandate, as well as online learning. They also heard from some working parents angry about the sudden closure.

"The entire messaging around this situation has left it to parents to decide. And as we can see, parents outside of school are not masking, they're not taking care of precautions. They're sending kids to school with Covid," one parent said.

"The nurse who I called and talked to couldn't tell me when – maybe end of last week, maybe Monday – or how she was exposed, or if she was a close contact but that hopefully the positive kid would call or text their friends and let them know. This can't be how this works," said a mother whose high-school aged daughter is currently in quarantine.

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"You all stated yourselves that kids are falling behind because of virtual learning and that it was unsuccessful, so why do we want to move back to this?" another parent argued.

"What happens if parents can't keep their jobs? How are we feeding our children? How are we keeping lights over our heads? You guys, these are serious things we need to be thinking about when you decide on a whim to shut down a school. Not everyone has cush stay-at-home mom gig, okay? Some of us have to work," a parent said.

After listening to 30 minutes of impassioned public comment from parents, the Richardson ISD Board discussed the rising COVID infection rate districtwide Friday.

Superintendent Jeanie Stone remains firm that safety is the priority.

"We are doing everything we can to keep kids in school learning and to meet the needs of all of our students although some of our parents and constituents may not agree on either one of those sides," she said.

"We have seen 537 student cases, as you can see, that is a significant amount to push through in 13 days," Richardson ISD Director of Health Services Ashley Jones said.

To put that number into perspective, Jones said there were 1,854 positive student cases total last school year.

Brentfield Elementary School is considered a hotspot after 25% of students were absent on Wednesday.

The school was abruptly shut down for 10 days beginning Friday after consulting with Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Students will learn virtually.

"As of last night, we have 29 positives within the last 10 days on this campus," Jones said. 

Jones also expressed concerns about rising COVID cases at six other campuses, including Bowie, where there were seven positive cases in one class.

"We currently have a 6th grade student in the ICU. We have to pay attention to this stuff," she said.

RELATED: 2 Texas teachers die of COVID-19, prompting school district shutdown

After public comment, the board members heard from the Health Services Department.

"Many of the comments previously made this morning show a limited understanding of science and of infection control and transmission," a physician told board members. "The evidence is clear that mandatory masking is an essential component of a layered strategy to protect the health and safety of students and staff, reduce transmission of COVID, and keep schools open."

The board went into executive session and came out with no decision on closing other campuses at this time, but reaffirmed the district's commitment to continued masking to help keep kids in school and campuses open.

"I think, at this time, this is the most responsible thing to do so that we can shift quickly should we need to," RISD Board Member Megan Timme said.

"We’ve got to keep our focus that this is about keeping a student with a teacher in a classroom," RISD Board Member Chris Poteet said.

"A special thank you to our parents for your support and understanding as we work through this phase of the pandemic," RISD Board President Karen Clardy said.

They will re-evaluate the date at their next meeting on October 4.

The school board asked that the superintendent provide them with an update on COVID numbers and health concerns at their next meeting.