Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, county officials and health officials, said Wednesday that they want Houston to get a grip on some key COVID-19 metrics before sending kids back onto school grounds.
As part of Harris County’s new School Reopening Roadmap, officials are recommending that school districts offer virtual classes and keep schools closed as long as the county’s COVID-19 threat level is at the highest level, also known as Level 1 or “Code Red”. “which first reached the county in late June and where it remains.
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“There is no evidence of a successful school reopening across the country or around the world when transmission rates are as high as in our community,” said Umair Shah, director of Harris County Health Department, during a news conference. “We know we all want to get back to personal activity, but it’s just not safe to do so right now.”
The recommendations for the gradual reopening of the school are based on the indicators for the district’s threat level system. COVID-19 metrics for Level 1 include the county registering more than 400 new COVID-19 cases per day, staying above a test positive rate of 5 percent, or continuing to fill more than 15 percent of hospital beds with COVID-19 patients are over a two week period according to the roadmap posted on the ReadyHarris website. All indicators must be met for the threat level to change, Hidalgo said.
“I understand the desperate need to go back to school now,” said Hidalgo. “I know it’s a critical lifeline for parents, for millions of working parents who are already struggling to get through and unable to work from home. We can’t ignore this. When it comes to dealing with this crisis, we should do not do.” Bringing politics and science into harmony. “
On HoustonChronicle.com: “We Can’t Ignore This”: Harris County Health Official Hidalgo Issues Guidelines For School Reopening
School districts can be reopened for face-to-face tuition once conditions improve. Once the metrics are met and the county threat level moves to Level 2 or Code Orange, it is recommended that schools reopen to a capacity of 25 percent or 500 students. Once the threat level moves to level 3 or code yellow, schools can reopen with a capacity of 50 percent or 1,000 students, etc.
In an effort to provide a process for school districts to get guidance on how to best reopen campus, the roadmap prompts districts to submit their phased reopening plans to the district health department for approval. The roadmap also encourages prioritization of in-person learning for certain population groups, including students with disabilities, students with significant academic gaps, homeless students, students in government daycare and students who are considered economically disadvantaged.
Governor Greg Abbott said local officials are not empowered to shut down campus to contain COVID-19 infections and that school districts must find their own way towards the new school year. According to instructions from the Texas Education Agency, later assisted by Abbott, school districts may delay reopening for personal tuition for the first eight weeks of the year, which most counties in the Houston area did. School districts closed for more than five days due to an outbreak, however, could lose government funding.
According to Hidalgo, the district’s roadmap is intended to provide superintendents, families and school employees with clear guidelines to get schools back on track for a sustainable reopening. She added that the roadmap was created with the help of local and public health officials and is based on research into local, state, national and international models for reopening schools.
“I know this feels like an impossible situation,” said Hidalgo. “I want to send you a message today: We have your back.”
Shah added that leadership could evolve if the pandemic drags on.
For more information on Harris County’s School Reopening Roadmap, please visit the ReadyHarris website.