Seguin ISD is not mandating masks unless positivity rates in classrooms or on campuses rise above certain thresholds.
During a special meeting of the school board, Seguin ISD Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez unveiled the district’s newest policy, which breaks down positivity rates into three levels and the actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among staff and students — including temporarily requiring masks or possible closures.
While the policy is district-wide, it takes a closer look at the individual campuses, grade levels and classrooms to make the determination on what actions to take.
“We can’t just make a blanket mandate and I don’t believe in a mandate, it is long term,” Gutierrez said. “I believe we make a decision based on data that is very temporary in nature and is unique to a campus. Even in some circumstances it is going to be unique to a certain wing of a school, a grade level or to a classroom.”
With the community divided on mask mandates, Gutierrez feels this policy is a good compromise.
“I know that we’ve got both sides,” he said. “You’ve got the parents that want masks optional, you’ve got the parents that want the masks in place. But one of the things we all want are our schools open. We’re hoping that we don’t get to that place and in an effort to not get to a school closure, we are looking at a mask requirement only when it is necessary.”
Proposed campus and district thresholds are divided into three stages.
Stage one — which the district and all campuses are currently in — has a positivity rate below 5%. Under the stage one guidelines, masks are encouraged but not required and the district is asking parents or guardians to quarantine siblings or close contacts in the same household.
Stage two is triggered when the COVID positivity rate is between 5% and 9% for two consecutive days or about 25% — 4 to 5 students at one time — in an elementary classroom.
Under stage two, the district will engage a mask requirement for that classroom, grade level or campus for seven days or until the positivity rate drops below 5% for two consecutive days, quarantining of siblings and close contacts in the same household, short-term campus closures and possibly reduce attendance at extracurricular activities.
When a campus, grade level or classroom rises to a positivity rate of about 10%, it is elevated to stage three, which could mean a closure of up to seven days and no extracurricular activities.
“What we’re hoping to do is prevent getting to stage three by putting in place mitigation measures at stage two to keep us from closing our schools, but continuing with the measures we’ve been doing in stage one to prevent us from going to stage two,” Gutierrez said. “Right now in stage one, our parents have the opportunity to make that decision.”
To help parents make the most informed decision and help mitigate the spread, the district rolled out an updated COVID dashboard, which shows the positivity rate on each campus, the number of students and staff who tested positive, as well as the overall totals for the district.
“We’re hoping that with the district and parents monitoring that data together, we don’t get to a stage two,” Gutierrez said. “With the new dashboard that is available, effective today (Thursday), our parents will be able to better monitor that data at their child’s school. We feel very confident that our parents are really going to strongly consider whether or not they’re going to send their child with a mask based on that data. It is a partnership with the parents and we have to work together to ensure that all students and staff are safe.”
In the event of a closure, learning may not halt, depending on the circumstances, Gutierrez said.
Teachers, if healthy, can video conference with their students and provide instruction through learning platforms. If the teacher is ill or a majority of the students are ill, instruction will halt, Gutierrez said.
“If the teacher is healthy and we’ve got some student cases, then the teacher can provide that remote conferencing,” he said. “It really depends on the severity of COVID, which would then determine whether it’s remote conferencing where there is still some instruction going on, or if it is a complete closure for a certain number of days where there is no instruction going on. It could be a situation where there is so much sickness, it is not possible for any instruction to be happening because of the number of students ill or the number of staff who are ill.”
In the first four weeks of school, Seguin ISD has recorded a total of 238 students who have tested positive for COVID-19, matching the total number of students for the entire 2020-21 school year.
As of Friday, the district’s positivity rate was at 1.51% equating to 17 staff members and 106 students. Barnes Middle School had the highest rate at 3.51% with four staff members and 29 students.
The district’s policy is unique and tailored to the community, Gutierrez said.
“I feel like this is a good plan and I feel like it meets the needs of our community,” he said. “We’re not just making a decision because we’re seeing a rise in cases to just say everyone is going to wear a mask. I believe we really have to monitor the data closely. It has to really be individual to a school community because one side of town is very different from another side of town.”
School board president Cinde Thomas-Jimenez applauded Gutierrez and the district staff for the plan.
“I really like his approach and I hope our families and our community understands that this is not as harsh as it could be,” she said. “We’re trying to do what we can to mitigate the cases and do what we can to cut down on contamination.”
Other measures the district is taking include frequent cleaning of classrooms and buses, encouraging frequent hand washing, students using refillable water bottles, placement of thermal scanners at entrances of all campuses and the addition of air cleaning units to campuses’ large common spaces, like cafeterias.