By Gaige Davila
As Point Isabel ISD prepares for the incoming school year, many of the same concerns surrounding COVID-19 remain, more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In some aspects it feels like déjà vu, and then on the other hand it’s a whole new experience and nightmare that we’re living all over again,” PI-ISD Superintendent Theresa Capistran told the PRESS in a phone call. “We know many people in our community were so negatively impacted by loss of family members because of COVID, and the last thing that we need is for our community to continue being impacted by this new variant.”
That new variant of the COVID-19 virus, Delta, was first detected in India last December, making its way to the United States by March of this year. Cameron County has identified, as of press time, 3 cases of the Delta variant. Neighboring Hidalgo County has identified 4 cases. All of the people who contracted it were unvaccinated.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this variant is more contagious than the other variants; specifically, Delta is as contagious as chicken pox. The CDC, in the wake of Delta’s spread through the U.S., is now recommending both unvaccinated and vaccinated people to wear face coverings and get tested for COVID-19 if they have been exposed.
Cases in Texas and Cameron County continue to trend upwards, but Texas schools, including PI-ISD, can do little to mitigate the spread through health protocol enforcement, compared to last year.
“All we can do is continue to offer the (vaccine) clinics for students or staff members or community members, and the use of masks,” Capistran said. “We are not allowed to mandate either one of those.”
With that being said, Capistran said all of PI-ISD’s COVID protocols will remain: handwashing and hand sanitizer stations in campus halls, social distance markers, regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces and contact tracing for students and staff that test positive for COVID-19.
PI-ISD cannot enforce wearing face masks because of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order. But students and staff will be encouraged to wear them, with PI-ISD distributing them across the four campuses. PI-ISD can’t require anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine before the school year starts either, also per state prohibition.
Yet if you ask the PI-ISD community, safety protocols that would be aided by masks and vaccines are what they care about most.
PI-ISD sent out a survey to parents and students in June and, according to the survey responses, COVID safety protocols were paramount over technology and training for schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the survey responses in mind, Capistran said safety is a top priority for the school district.
PI-ISD’s focus on these in-person protocols is also out of necessity: schools across the state cannot offer remote instruction, as the Texas Legislature did not allot funding for it. PI-ISD will open all of its campuses for face-to-face, in-person instruction at 100% capacity, come August 23, the first day of school.
To help offset this forced return to school, PI-ISD is providing required school supplies to all of its students.
Capsitran said if the Texas Education Agency were to secure grants from the Texas Legislature for remote learning the district would allow it.
“We still have three weeks before we start school,” she said. “A lot can change in these next three weeks. The positivity rate can either go down or it can go back up. The district remains very flexible.”
PI-ISD has been meeting with Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr and TEA Commissioner Mike Morath in preparation for the upcoming school year, staying updated as much as possible.
Though COVID’s continued presence hangs over the school year’s return, Capistran said the district is excited to have their students back, some of whom have been out of school for over a year and a half. New electives, programs and after school programs will greet returning students.
As far as what the future of the school year looks like, there’s no telling yet. But Capistran is hopeful it will be positive.
“We want our students and our families to know that the district is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure our students’ safety,” Capsitran said. “Everything else will fall into place as long as we continue to have safety as the center of everything we do.”
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