“As educational leaders providing for the well-being and educational needs of over a half million students, we cannot support your recommendation that would essentially require indefinite closure of schools to in-person instruction while awaiting a widely available COVID-19 medical countermeasure or greater staffing capacity at Harris County Public Health for contact tracing,” the superintendents wrote.
The letter cited guidance from the American Academy for Pediatrics that states long periods of time away from school can result in learning deficits and mental health issues.
Superintendents from Clear Creek, Cy-Fair, Deer Park, Huffman, Humble, Katy, Klein, Pasadena, Spring Branch and Tomball ISDs, which have all been closed for in-person instruction since March, signed the message to Shah. Districts included have developed health and safety plans based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Education Agency, according to the letter.
“As we consider the evolving conditions in our communities, we will continue to review the guidance of national, state and local officials in order to make decisions in the best interest of our independent school districts,” the letter reads. “The safety and health of our communities is everyone’s priority, and we will continue to do our part to promote the overall health, safety, and wellness of our communities.”
Harris County Public Health responded in an Aug. 18 statement saying it is not currently safe for schools to return for typical in-person activities, according to COVID-19 data countywide. The statement clarified county guidance does not mean schools must remain closed until a vaccine is available.
"Since issuing the Harris County School Reopening Roadmap, @hcphtx has received a joint letter from several Harris County ISDs. In its guidance, HCPH has recommended that in-person activities be phased-in until community spread of #COVID19 declines."
Full statement below pic.twitter.com/9f3Pei4bsT
— Harris County Public Health #SocialDistance (@hcphtx) August 19, 2020
At the Aug. 12 press conference, county officials released their own recommendations for reopening schools—a phased approach based on the Harris County COVID-19 threat level system, which remains at the most severe level.
“The countdown to the first day of school in person is like a ticking time bomb unless we do this right,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Aug. 12. “We made clear that it’s currently not safe, and it won’t be safe anytime in the near future, to open schools for in-person instruction.”