Northwest ISD is relaxing safety protocols on school campuses due to declining COVID-19 cases in the district.

Most precautions will stay in place for the remainder of the school year, and the changes will mostly affect outdoor activities. There are 28 confirmed active cases in the district as of April 15, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“Because this number has gone down and because it has consistently stayed down, we felt it very logical and prudent to make some changes to our safety protocols,” NISD Superintendent Ryder Warren said during an April 14 Facebook Live presentation that outlined the changes.

Assistant Superintendent for Facilities Tim McClure said during an April 12 board of trustees meeting that masks affect how the district reports contract tracing, as required by the Texas Education Agency. According to TEA guidance, individuals are said to be in close contact with a person if they are indoors and within 6 feet of each other for more than 15 minutes a day, but masks can be considered a mitigating measure. McClure said that means that if a student tests positive for COVID-19 and his or her classmates and teachers were wearing masks while in class together, those other people would not necessarily need to be reported as close contacts and would not have to quarantine.

“If we disallow masks in the classroom, then a case in a classroom could shut down the whole class,” he said. “If that kid’s traveling from class to class to class at a secondary level, then you're shutting down multiple classes, and a lot of kids are going home.”

Warren said continuing to require masks indoors will help ensure students and teachers will be able to participate in end-of-year celebrations, which they were not able to do last year because of the pandemic.

Masks and social distancing will still be required inside school buildings for both students and staff, but masks are now optional for outdoor activities, such as certain physical education classes, sports games and practices, and after-school events.

The district will also allow in-person award ceremonies for students and teachers to celebrate the end of the school year, although outside guests, including parents, will not be allowed to attend. Full safety protocols for prom and graduation will be communicated with families in the near future. Graduation ceremonies at Northwest, Byron Nelson and Eaton high schools will take place outside, meaning masks are optional. Steele Accelerated High School’s graduation will be held indoors at the Northwest High School Performing Arts Center, and masks will be required.

In-person summer camps, summer school and other usual summer break activities will continue as normal, and the district does not currently have plans to change safety protocols for summer activities.

Parent-teacher association volunteers, who were allowed on campuses after school starting in January, will now be allowed on campus to volunteer during the school day as well.

“We really want to make sure that we kept the course to finish the school year,” McClure said. “We want to be back to normal as everybody else does, but we also don't want to put our kids at risk.”