On Aug. 26, Conroe ISD reached 1,997 total positive cases among students. The case count was over five times higher than the highest number of positive cases reached during the 2020-21 school year, according to the CISD COVID-19 dashboard.

The first day of school for the 2021-22 school year was on Aug. 11. After a week of in-person learning, total positive COVID-19 cases in students increased by 207%, or 617 cases, according to the dashboard.

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, CISD Superintendent Curtis Null addressed the case count during a virtual update on Aug. 20.

Null said the district reached threat level four after eight school days and asked that students and teachers wear masks to stop the spread. Null stated that threat level five involves the closure of schools. If the district closes, student hours will be made up by increasing school hours, removing holidays or adding days to the school calendar, Null said during the virtual update.

However, CISD Chief Financial Officer Darrin Rice said that the district is hopeful to see state funding for virtual learning return to the district in case of a closure.

The Texas House approved Senate Bill 15 on Aug. 27. The bill will enter a final vote in the House before being sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for approval. If approved, SB 15 would provide school districts and charter schools funding to set up virtual learning programs until September 2023, according to the bill.

“We’re looking for that bill to pass,” Rice said on Aug. 26. “We think it will [pass] ... That’s what it’s looking like right now.”

An employee shortage

Despite new highs in total positive student cases, Rice said that he does not expect a significant decrease in the average daily attendance compared to the 2020-21 school year. He said that the district expects a 94% average daily attendance by the end of the 2021-22 school year.

“Actually, our attendance is a lot stronger than we thought,” Rice said on Aug. 26. “Enrollment wise, we’re over our enrollment. We’ve exceeded that. It’s the average daily attendance that we’re lagging a little bit behind right now.”

The district said they are facing issues with staffing in classrooms.

According to the dashboard, employee attendance has remained above 92% during the 2021-22 school year. However, the substitute teacher fill rate, or the percent of desired substitute positions that were filled, reached an all-time low on Aug. 26.

According to the dashboard, only 54% of desired substitute teacher spots were filled on Aug. 26. As of Aug. 30, 455 substitute teachers were needed. The district had a substitute fill rate of 58%, leaving 191 unfilled positions.

A substitute shortage has been an issue for CISD throughout the pandemic, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper.

“Although we have over 1,000 approved substitutes, only a small number are active and accepting jobs, resulting in our low fill rates,” the district said in a statement. “When a teacher is absent and the vacancy is not filled by a substitute, other teachers will often fill in [during] their conference period or campus administrators will cover the class.”

The district encouraged interested applicants to apply for a substitute position at www.conroeisd.net.

Editor's note: This story was edited to add clarifying context to several of Rice's remarks.