SAN SABA, Texas (KXAN) — A Central Texas school district decided to allow teachers and students to return to campuses Wednesday, despite public health orders across the state to limit gatherings of people together. It later announced it would have students learn from home starting Thursday, but used its one day to hand out materials to students and teachers.
A concerned teacher at the San Saba Independent School District, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought it to the attention of the KXAN investigative team. The teacher said their spring break was last week, and then the district extended it to Tuesday of this week for students due to COVID-19 concerns.
Teachers and staff were asked to report to work Monday and Tuesday to start moving curriculum to an online learning format to prepare for a potential long-term closure, and families were told students could return to campus Wednesday for regular classes.
“The buildings aren’t infected,” San Saba ISD Superintendent Wayne Kelly told KXAN. “It’s the people and droplets from people. If we disinfect our buildings and keep them safe our buildings are fine for small groups of people like our teachers and staff to come in and work.”
Kelly, who has been receiving a lot of negative comments online about the decision, said the fact that San Saba County has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus was a key factor in the choice to open. San Saba ISD is a small, rural district with 775 students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. The district has three separate school buildings that sit next to each other: an elementary school, a middle school and a high school.
Only half of the entire student body showed up to school Wednesday, according to Kelly. He said it allowed them to practice social distancing, and only allow ten people per classroom. One teacher told KXAN she had more than 10 students in her class at various times, and was never given guidelines about distancing.
Information on the district’s website says any child who did not show up would not be marked absent, if their parents contact the school. Students are still required to complete school work at home. Now, the district is operating on a “school is closed, but still in session” basis.
“A lot of people don’t realize the commissioner of education said if you’re closed you still have to provide instruction for your kids, and so we really can’t just shut down school,” said Kelly. “We have to provide an alternative method of instruction for them.”
A parent, who is also a San Saba ISD employee, told KXAN she decided to send her two children to school on Wednesday and is glad the district reopened so they now have the tools they need to continue learning at home, however, they don’t have the internet at home. She’s still trying to figure out how it’s all going to work.
A media specialist with the Texas Education Agency said the TEA has been actively providing guidance to school districts and administrators so they can make the best decisions during this time, but whatever that decision is rests solely on each district.
Nearby Brady ISD asked teachers to report back to campuses on March 16, according to its website. Spring Break was extended to March 22 for Brady ISD students.
Llano Independent Schools also decided to extend its current Spring Break to April 6th.