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COVID outbreaks in three rural Texas communities force school districts to close their doors

Just days into the school year, three rural Texas school districts in West and East Texas shutter campuses because of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and students.

By Corbett Smith

School Districts
Three rural school districts – one in West Texas, two in East Texas – have shut their doors for at least a week because of COVID-19 outbreaks.(SukruGoksu / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As court battles on mask mandates roar on, three rural Texas school districts have shut their doors for at least a week because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

On Monday, Iraan-Sheffield ISD, a district about 80 miles south of Midland, announced it would shut down its three campuses starting Tuesday, keeping its 338 students home until Aug. 30.

Iraan started school on Aug. 10.

“This decision was made to ensure the safety of our students and staff, as well as to make certain that we have appropriate staff available for each campus,” Superintendent Tracy Canter wrote in a letter to parents Monday afternoon.

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ISD School Information

No virtual or remote learning will be made available at this time, Canter wrote, although the district was working with the Texas Education Agency on alternative plans.

She also pleaded with staff and students to stay in quarantine over the two-week break.

“They should not be out and about in the community or hanging out with friends,” Canter wrote. “The only way that this will work is if everyone does their part.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in the district is unclear, at this point.

Last week’s COVID-19 data should be reported by this Friday on the Texas Department of State Health Services website, according to protocols set by DSHS and the Texas Education Agency. Spreadsheets on the site “for week ending August 13, 2021” are mislabeled, instead showing data for the week ending Aug. 8. DSHS did not immediately respond for comment or clarification.

As a result of the closures, Iraan’s season-opening football game against the Munday Moguls on Aug. 27 has been canceled.

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Bloomburg and Waskom ISDs — two small districts in East Texas on the borders of Arkansas and Louisiana, respectively — told families on Sunday that they would not hold classes this week at some of their campuses.

A Facebook post from administrators from Bloomburg, a 250-student district about 30 miles south of Texarkana, said the district would close starting Monday through Aug. 20.

“We feel this is the best decision to protect our students, staff and community during this time,” the post said.

School Closure

Waskom ISD closed its elementary school through Aug. 20, unable to properly staff its campus because of the number of COVID-positive staff members at that location, said a Facebook message from its superintendent, Rae Ann Patty.

Patty told KTBS-TV she did not know of a positive case among the school’s students.

“Everybody wants to know, was my child’s teacher COVID-positive, and If so what are you doing to protect my child? I have rules and regulations I have to follow as far as HIPAA,” Patty said. “I’ve taken a lot of phone calls from our community, and I’m answering the best I can, the most legal way that I can.”

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While several states — including New York, Maryland and Washington — are contemplating mandates that would require teachers to vaccinate, Texas is not among them. Last week, California became the first state to require that teachers be vaccinated, or face frequent testing.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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