Friendswood ISD’s COVID-19 protocols will remain virtually unchanged this school year, despite the district being given option to revise local masking policies.

After review of data for positive cases and quarantines from the first three nine weeks of school, information from local health authorities and the Texas Education Agency, FISD recommended no changes to its masking guidelines through the end of the 2020-21 academic year, according to a board members’ report from the March 8 meeting.

On March 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34, which addresses the wearing of face covering such as masks. As of March 10, there is no longer a statewide mask mandate; TEA updated its guidance to allow a public school system's practices on masks to be determined by the school board.

FISD’s goal is to complete the school year with as many students as possible coming to classes on campus and participating in extracurricular activities, the board report said: 96% of the 6,097 students are learning in a brick-and-mortar setting, which means fewer than 250 students are learning virtually.

The decision to uphold current policies, including masking, was made to ensure students will continue to have that experience, according to the board report. As of early March, no single class or school has been required to shut down and move to a remote model, per the board report.

“We have utmost hopes that this will continue through the end of the school year by continuing with the current protocols in place,” the report reads. “The goal of the district is to provide students with [sports and extracurricular] experiences as well as prom, senior walks, kindergarten graduation and other important events this spring.”

Parents have signed students up for in-person instruction during the fourth nine weeks based on the safety protocols already in place as well as on vaccine availability and local COVID-19 conditions. Changing the protocols could warrant possible issues for many who have decided to allow students to return, FISD leaders said in the board report.

Extracurricular groups have been required to quarantine as a result of close and personal contact, but most extracurricular seasons have been completed for all areas, FISD leaders said in the report. Last spring, full spring sports seasons and extracurricular activities were canceled.

The University Interscholastic League has provided districts with the option to adjust capacities at UIL events and to continue with mask orders for these areas. Per the board report, Superintendent Thad Roher will continue to work with the FISD athletic director and with high school and junior high administrations to determine adjustments to capacities, but mask orders will continue as stated for school activities in the district's COVID safety protocols.

The currently approved protocols allow for masked students and employees to avoid quarantine, which has allowed for a high percentage of students and staff to remain active in school and not “in a quarantine situation which is taxing on families, teachers, nurses and administrators processing pivots,” per the report.

Another reason given for upholding masking policies is that although FISD has been able to provide vaccines for a majority of the employees who qualify under Phase 1B of the state’s rollout plan, the remaining employees were unable to register for vaccines until the change in policy for priority groups was updated March 10 to include school personnel.

“Until a full vaccine roll-out plan has been provided for district employees, masks remain as an important layer of protection for the health and safety of FISD employees,” the report reads.

The only change to the district’s COVID-19 protocols is a relaxation in cleaning requirements. New TEA guidance includes a change in cleaning requirements as a result of their findings that "evidence suggests that COVID-19 does not easily spread on surfaces and that increased cleaning practices may not be beneficial in reducing spread."

The new requirements continue to emphasize cleaning as a safe practice, but they remove the requirement for FISD teachers to clean classes or other areas between groups. Staff will continue to clean commonly used surfaces daily and make use of increased janitorial cleaning staff on campuses each day to address restrooms, common areas, lunchrooms and other gathering areas.

Click here to view FISD’s full breakdown of COVID-19 protocols.