By Emily Donaldson and Brayden Garcia
Less than a month into the new school year, North Texas school districts are reporting thousands of new COVID-19 cases among students and staff as some are having to shutter campuses in response to the uptick.
Some area districts have among the state’s highest number of total cases, according to an analysis of Texas’ most recent data released on Friday.
More Texas students tested positive for coronavirus in the last week than did during the previous peak of the 2020-21 school year.
Schools statewide reported that nearly 52,000 students had tested positive this school year, according to data released Friday. The state reported about 148,000 positive COVID-19 student cases for all of the last school year. Nearly 5.4 million students attend public schools in Texas.
In North Texas, rising case numbers had school districts shuttering campuses.
The Dallas Morning News analyzed the North Texas school systems’ COVID-19 cases reported through Aug. 29 and found that Garland ISD reported the most — 1,306 — among students since the start of the school year.
Garland ISD reported the fourth highest number of total student cases statewide, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data. The Garland district started school earlier than most nearby districts and most cases are linked to in-home exposures, district spokeswoman Caren Rodriguez said.
COVID-19 Cases in Texas School Districts
School districts report new COVID-19 cases to the state on a weekly basis. These are the Texas school districts reporting the highest number of total student cases in the state.
|School District||Enrollment as of Jan. 29, 2021||New student cases as of 8/29||Total student cases|
|Corpus Christi ISD||34,378||408||1,146|
|Fort Bend ISD||76,856||720||1,571|
|New Caney ISD||16,127||426||703|
|San Antonio ISD||45,514||202||704|
SOURCE: Texas Department of State Health Services / Credit: Emily Donaldson / DMN
Garland trustees approved a mask mandate that went into effect Sept. 1, providing exemptions for medical, religious and philosophical reasons. During an Aug. 24 board meeting, Director of Health Services Renee Kotsopoulos told the community that it appeared the number of new cases was stabilizing and the district was not seeing a sharp increase.
GISD has implemented a system that adjusts health and safety protocols based on the percentage of a campus student body with a positive COVID case. When positivity rates breach 3.4%, for example, campuses begin limiting the capacity for indoor and outdoor events. Access to campuses and district facilities is then restricted to only essential visitors.
Frisco reported the most new student cases — 573 — in North Texas for the week ending Aug. 29. That equates to almost nine new cases per 1,000 students. Frisco ISD enrolled nearly 64,000 students as of January 2021.
Frisco ISD has reported 1,020 total student cases up until Aug. 29, which ranks sixth when compared to districts statewide.
The district is not requiring masks but is suggesting them for all individuals regardless of vaccination status, according to Frisco’s website. On Aug. 30, the district updated its health protocols “to reemphasize requirements and best practices,” spokeswoman Meghan Cone said.
Cone noted that Frisco’s cases appear to be on the decline — the district tracks a seven-day moving average of daily new cases based on either the date of symptom onset or a positive test. This average peaked on Aug. 27 and dropped by 32% since then as of Sept. 2, Cone said. The average, which includes both student and staff cases on-campus and off-campus, decreased from 115 to 78.
The News’ analysis explored which districts were reporting the most cases per capita, which tended to be smaller, more rural districts.
Kemp ISD, a 1,600-student school district located in Kaufman County, reported the most new student cases per 1,000 students at 42.33 cases.
The district closed all of its schools from Aug. 25-27 because of the uptick, Superintendent James Young said previously. Campuses reopened Aug. 30, after all of the facilities were disinfected. Kemp does not require masks on their campuses.
Kemp officials did not return a request for comment in time for publication.
Godley ISD, located in Johnson County, has reported the most total COVID-19 cases per 1,000 students since the school year began at 38.13 cases. The 2,600-student district added 43 new cases last week, growing the overall total to 95.
Godley officials did not return a request for comment in time for publication.
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.