HOUSTON - Houston parents are reacting to a new recommendation from the CDC that schools can return to in-person learning without vaccinations.
Texas teachers are not among those prioritized by DSHS for COVID-19 vaccinations so far, and the CDC is now saying that’s okay—that in-person learning is fine to resume minus vaccinations.
"If he does bring it home, I don’t know what’s gonna happen," said Ric Ancira, a KIPP Academy parent. "It is concerning."
For Ric Ancira, the new recommendation from the CDC leaves him concerned that his son could be asked to return to class and bring COVID-19 home with him.
"Safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.
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"I’m a little surprised that they would suggest that, only because they’re still recommending that everyone stay six feet from each other," said Ancira.
He says the school has left it up to parents this school year to decide whether to send their kids in person or keep them at home learning virtually. He says his son—an 8th grader--has chosen virtual learning, and it’s gone well.
"He said he feels more comfortable being home," said Ancira. "We do have an agreement though that as long as his grades are up, then he has that option."
At Houston ISD, the district is continuing to allow parents to choose whether to send their students to school or keep them at home.
"Our teachers have no access to vaccines unless they fall into this special population," said Marifi Escobar, an HISD parent. "It’s a ticking bomb. It’s gonna go off. You have enclosed people in the setting for seven, eight hours a day. You can’t go anywhere. Chances are you’re gonna be exposed."
Escobar’s 7th grader has an underlying health condition, and she has opted to keep him at home despite the downsides.
"They are losing skills," said Escobar. "They are losing social interaction ... It disrupts every area of their education."
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According to Houston ISD’s website, there are currently about 500 active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff. It’s the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the nation.
According to their website, they are keeping student desks six feet apart and adding plexiglass barriers in high traffic areas.
Houston ISD sent us the following answers about the CDC’s new recommendation:
Q: Is HISD ready to return fully to in person learning?
A: We look forward to the time when 100 percent of our students can be back in class for in-person learning. It is no secret that in-person learning typically produces better academic outcomes. We also find that students do better mentally and socially when they are in a collective educational environment.
Parents have the choice to have their children take part in-person instruction or participate virtually.
Q: How many of the schools have plexiglass, air filtration, PPE, proper sanitization, social distancing adherence, effective virus testing protocol?
A: Everyone in HISD schools or facilities must wear masks and physically distance from others. We added plexiglass dividers in classrooms and each day our campuses undergo intense cleaning and sanitization.
In addition, we now offer COVID-19 nasal swab rapid testing on every campus for staff and for students whose parents give permission. We also continue to provide free testing for our staff through our partnership with Next Level. All COVID-19 testing, and vaccinations are optional. Both are provided at no cost.
Since March HISD has spent more than $34 million on COVID personal protective equipment including but not limited to masks, gloves, face shields, sanitizer, wipes, facility disinfection, safety signage, and plexiglass for all of our schools and facilities.
More information about COVID-19 safety protocols can be found in the HISD Communicable Disease Plan.
Q: What is the current percentage of in person versus remote learning?
A: About 44% of students are learning in-person and about 56% percent are learning virtually.
Presently, our enrollment is about 197,000 students.
Q: Is it true some schools have trailers that have been brought to the school to make room for overflow learning due to social distancing?
A: HISD has not deployed any additional temporary buildings to allow for increased physical distancing, but we have repurposed space within existing structures such as libraries and cafeterias.
As for KIPP Academy, they told FOX 26 it’s important for the CDC to consider vaccinating school staffers next.
"We think it important for the CDC to consider the next phase of vaccination to teachers and school administers to ensure that our schools are safe environments and mitigate spread of the virus," said Sehba Ali, KIPP Texas Public Schools CEO. "Vaccinated school staff will help families make decisions about the safe return of in-person instruction for their children."
According to Education Week, 27 states are currently vaccinating at least some teachers, and Texas is not one of them. HISD was able to vaccinate about 300 of its staffers last month, including nurses, police officers, and elderly and high-risk staff members.
The CDC says their studies show the virus does not spread in classrooms when students and staff wear masks, social distance and there is proper ventilation.