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Health officials recommend closing Leander ISD campuses, district says no

A Williamson County health official recommends Leander schools close for ten days due to rising cases within the district. (CBS Austin file photo)
A Williamson County health official recommends Leander schools close for ten days due to rising cases within the district. (CBS Austin file photo)
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Williamson County health officials have recommended Leander ISD schools shut down for 10 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. This comes as over 400 cases are confirmed among students and staff in the district.

Leander ISD officials said at this time a districtwide shutdown does not meet the needs of students and families so they will stay open. Williamson County health officials did make other recommendations to help slow the spread of the virus in schools.

The district said the following regarding the positive COVID-19 cases, saying in part:

“At this time, we are keeping schools open and focusing on individual classrooms impacted by clusters of positive cases. It is possible that whole classrooms at the elementary level may be required to access remote conferencing with their teacher. We will communicate those details directly to impacted staff, teachers, and families.”

In an email to Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing, Dr. Amanda Norwood with the Williamson County and Cities Health District said there is an increased concern with the number of cases and rapid spread through the school district.

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At an emergency board meeting on Monday night Assistant Superintendent John Graham said that there had been over 100 new cases reported over the weekend. Additionally Graham said there were COVID clusters identified at seven elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools.

“I’ve had lots of conversations with principals, with medical professionals, with our own staff and the rate of cases that we’ve seen in the district since we’ve began school is not like anything we’ve seen before,” Graham said.

The email from Dr. Norwood warned that Central Texas only has one pediatric ICU bed remaining.

There are currently more than 400 confirmed cases within the district. Dr. Norwood provided a list of recommendations:

  • A universal masking policy that limit opt-outs to only those with a medical exemption
  • Contact tracing
  • Required quarantine for at least seven days for close contacts
  • Virtual options for students who are unable to be vaccinated

“We are working closely with the health departments. When we identify positive cases, we are actively asking students and staff to quarantine knowing that that is a parent choice. But we are asking everyone to quarantine if they were a close contact,” Graham said.

Leander ISD said instead of closing school the best course of action is to focus on individual classrooms impacted by positive cases. They said it is possible that elementary schools may be required to do remote conferencing with their teachers.

Dr. Norwood said this level of spread is unsustainable for a school district and the county while there is only one pediatric ICU bed available in the Austin area.

“These are temporary measures. We don’t expect that these will be year-long, even semester-long. These are things that we have to do in the interim to keep our community safe,” LISD Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing said.

Monday night the Leander ISD school board, despite a vocal group of parents opposed to mask requirements, voted to extend their mask mandate until September 9th.

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Masks are still required in all facilities. Currently, about 10 percent of Leander students have opted out of the mask requirements. The school district said that’s about 4,000 students out of more than 41,000. Parents can contact their students’ campus administrator to opt-out.

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