Editor's note: This story has been amended to state that any student who was within six feet of a confirmed or probable case for more than 15 minutes would need to be quarantined according to district guidelines. This includes all students, whether or not they were wearing a mask.
Ahead of the 2020-21 school year, New Braunfels ISD and Comal ISD administration and staff met regularly with local health authorities to create a plan for handling suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools, according to Dr. Emily Briggs of Briggs Family Medicine.
Briggs serves as the medical director for NBISD and CISD and worked with local health authorities and district leaders to develop protocols to address potential coronavirus cases and prevent its spread.
“Every week we have a strategic planning meeting, and that’s been going on throughout the summer,” Briggs said. “We want to make sure that we’re using things that are national guidelines as well as things that are tailored to our local facilities.”
Both school districts began the school year allowing families to choose between in-person or online learning for the first nine weeks and to change their decision at the end of each nine-week grading period.
Approximately 60% of students in both districts elected to begin the year with on-campus instruction, and all in-person students and faculty will be required to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
Campus reopening plans state classrooms will be laid out with desks spaced at least 6 feet apart, and class schedules were simplified to limit student movement throughout the building.
If a student or staff member begins exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms on campus, they will be placed in an isolation room until they can be picked up by their caregiver, and staff will record who that student came into contact with, Briggs said.
“Our ideal situation is that each teacher will create a floor plan for their room for where everybody's sitting,” Briggs said. “The administrator will then gather the floor plans of each of the students who are in the classes where that student attended class and then be able to identify which students ... needed to be quarantined.”
Briggs said anyone who was within 6 feet of a confirmed or probable case for more than 15 minutes with or without a mask on would need to be quarantined.
Briggs and her team hope compliance with mask-wearing policies and distancing while on campus will prevent entire classes or grades from having to quarantine.
When cases are identified, they will be added to a district database that parents can access to see where cases have occurred and who may have come into contact with that case.
For students who require extra learning support or need to see a school counselor during the day, their visits will be recorded, and physical distancing with masks will be encouraged, Briggs said.
“This is obviously a very difficult time for everybody,” Briggs said. “My hope is that we are able to keep mental health at the forefront of all decisions—that we maintain that social connection when we can’t have a physical connection.”
Correction: This story has been edited to clarify that "close contact" is defined by the CDC and back-to-school plans as being within 6 feet of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes with or without a mask.