As many students prepare to return for in-person learning at their respective schools, parents, teachers, and administrators must grapple with the unprecedent impact of COVID-19 and the Delta variant that has become more contagious than ever.
Physicians across the country, especially here in the Greater Houston area are encouraging parents to strongly consider the masking and vaccination of their children who will be incoming students this fall.
Texas Medical Association (TMA) President E. Linda Villarreal, MD; Texas Pediatric Society (TPS) President Seth D. Kaplan, MD; and Texas Public Health Coalition (TPHC) Chair Jason V. Terk, MD, have combined forces to issue a joint statement as Texas families plan for their children to return to school. The physician and health care groups are calling for children to be protected from COVID-19 due to spikes in cases and hospitalizations from the COVID-19 Delta variant. They are recommending parents and families follow new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for masking everyone in schools, grades K-12—regardless of vaccination status—and to vaccinate all children aged 12 and up who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine, to protect them and their families.
Their joint statement reads:
“As students head back to school this fall, physicians urge Texans to take steps to safeguard children from surging COVID-19 infections. We must defend children by vaccinating those aged 12 and up who can receive the COVID-19 shot, and by urging mask-wearing for everyone in schools to protect those who can’t be vaccinated. The pandemic has not ended – Gov. Greg Abbott renewed Texas’ disaster declaration on July 1 – and we physicians see it’s worsening as COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths increase once again, mostly in unvaccinated Texans. Let’s face it; if we don’t take action, the more infectious COVID-19 delta variant will spread among students when they gather together in schools. We urge use of every tool in our toolkit to protect children and their families from COVID-19. Those tools include vaccinating everyone who is eligible and getting all students to wear a mask to prevent spread of disease to others, especially those who cannot get the shot’s defense from the virus. We want and need to have our children return to schools where they can learn and thrive. But we must ensure they are safe from disease spread to avoid outbreaks and disruptions that could keep kids out of school. The physicians also suggest children are caught up on all vaccinations in preparation for school.”
The new Superintendent at Houston Independent School District (HISD) Millard House II stated that his own children were virtual learners and will be HISD students and is emphasizing his belief that HISD schools are safe and have not been associated with a substantial community spread.
“In HISD, COVID-19 case numbers have dropped 90 percent since the beginning of the year,” said House. “As vaccinations continue to increase throughout Harris County and the country, we are confident that a full return to in-person learning in the coming school year will be completely safe for students and teachers.”
This past week, HISD released a “Back to School Plan” as part of their recent newsletter which discussed their plan to address COVID-19 and the protocols they plan to use, which include:
- Masks will be optional for both students and staff and they will no longer require masks inside or outside of HISD schools, buildings, or buses, per the state mandate.
- Social distancing will no longer required, and in-person meetings, events, and celebrations will be permitted. In addition, capacity and attendance limits for rooms, meetings events, and sports competitions have been lifted.
- Athletic competitions and practices, as well as on-campus extracurricular activities will be allowed with no restrictions or limitations.
- Schools and buildings will be limited to essential visitors who have a scheduled appointment, such as parent and community volunteers who have been preapproved through HISD’s Volunteers in Public Schools program.
- Any student or employee who experiences COVID-19 symptoms at school or work will be directed to a designated room, which will be supervised, stocked with masks and hand sanitizer, and disinfected daily.
- If conditions change and a school building must be closed, the decision will be made on a case-to-case basis by HISD Health and Medical Services and the Houston Health Department.
Several parents and teachers across the Greater Houston area spoke with the Houston Forward Times and shared their thoughts on the pandemic and whether students should be vaccinated and wear masks as they return to school in the fall.
Tris Waddy has a 11-year-old son going to the 6th grade in HISD and she believes there should be a constant reminder at schools regarding the impact of this virus.
I believe all schools should have a process that reminds and informs students about the potential spread of the virus if they choose to not wear a mask,” says Waddy. “They should also provide students with a consent form that have been warned and informed of the harm and potential death that the spread of this virus may cause.”
Larry McKinzie, an 8th grade Science teacher at Secondary District Alternative Education Placement (DAEP) in Houston states that frontline workers in the United States are affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic but believes students should be vaccinated to prevent the spread.
“Vaccinations should be offered at the school and students should also wear masks to help stop the spread of this virus,” said McKinzie.
Kia Hayes, who teaches high school in Fort Bend ISD (FBISD) states that she agrees with vaccinations of students.
“The research I have seen thus far shows that it does not have adverse side effects that will affect them long term or that it is life altering, said Hayes. “I understand it’s up to their parents, but in my opinion it’s safe and can prevent severe complications if the child does contract COVID-19.”
Erica Miles, who has a 16-year-old in the 11th grade in FBISD states
“I think it’s a great measure to prevent kids from getting the virus,” said Wade.
FBISD teacher Shunn Rector believes that it is important for students to get vaccinated and wear masks when returning to school.
“Personally, I feel that wearing a mask effectively helps to prevent the transmission of not only COVID-19, but the flu virus as well,” says Rector. “Vaccinating the students will help us safely to return to school and give us all a piece of mind.”
There is a lot of uncertainty of how this new delta variant and the way it spreads will impact incoming students and the families that they have to go home to, but the Houston Forward Times will continue to monitor the impact of this virus and keep the community informed.