Any suggestion that COVID-19 can be equated with the flu should have ended more than 4 million deaths ago.
But here is what the Northeast Independent School District (NEISD) in San Antonio, Texas, sent to parents four days ago:
“This school year, public schools will treat COVID-19 exposure similar to the flu or strep throat and will not send home COVID-19 letters.”
The announcement, signed by Superintendent Sean Maika, also reported that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the state legislature have continued to concoct a parent’s nightmare.
“As we enter the 2021-2022 school year, remember that a mask mandate is prohibited, COVID-19 vaccines are not required, virtual learning will not be offered, and the state will no longer allow school districts to require quarantines for possible COVID-19 exposure.”
At that point, NEISD should have said that while the governor’s order bars a mask mandate, the district highly recommended them for students and staff. NEISD could have added that masks are not just a matter of individual choice, because their primary purpose is to protect others, not the wearer.
Here was a chance for the NEISD to have taught a lesson for parents as well as for students: Freedom does not mean you are at liberty to endanger others. The NEISD could have added that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that everyone in school who is over the age of 2 wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.
Instead, the NEISD not only ceded to the governor, but went one better.
For reasons that are difficult to comprehend, a school district that until then had been notably responsible in addressing the pandemic decided it would respond to COVID-19 as if it were the flu or strep throat.
A great many parents responded as might be expected of those who value their children’s well-being in a resurgent pandemic. They wrote letters and began a petition and posted hundreds of comments on the NEISD Facebook page:
“No masks No distance learning available. No quarantine after COVID exposure. No notification when someone gets sick. It is horrific that we have been stripped of the tools we had to keep our kids in school and safe. I have no words. Heartbreaking.”
“The not sending COVID letters home is scary. All of it makes me anxious, but not knowing if my kid was exposed and giving me the opportunity to decide how to handle it makes me livid.”
“Really hate this. Debating on whether or not to send my kids. They want to go. But my daughter has half a heart and one functioning lung so just not ideal. Might just pull them out for a year.”
“The delta variant of Covid is spreading rapidly across Texas. This variant attacks the younger population much easier. Young children, teenagers, young healthy adults are becoming extremely ill with this strain. Covid positivity rates are fixing to spike again setting us up for another surge right when school opens. So nice of you to open Pandora’s Box Governor Abbott.”
And there was this from Lindsay Harris Richard: “My aunt died yesterday from COVID and she was vaccinated. More children get COVID delta variant than the original. As an NEISD teacher and a NEISD mom I’m terrified for the children who cannot get the vaccine yet. Is there a plan for an outbreak? Imagine the absences. I realize this is a Texas govt issue but it’s not safe. Quarantine keeps lives safe. Information is invaluable. I’m terrified. More than last year. God help us all.”
When The Daily Beast contacted the NEISD for comment about the treat-it-like flu announcement, which was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News, a spokesperson indicated that the parent outrage had an effect.
“We are actually discussing notifications this week,” they said.
Hours later, on Monday evening, Maika sent out a new missive.
Dear Parents and Guardians,
I want to thank you for the feedback that you have provided regarding the safety plan for the 2021-2022 school year. As we did last year, we must work together to create a safe environment. We continue to focus on what the district can control. Consequently, we will continue to notify parents of positive COVID-19 cases at their child’s school.
That is no doubt a relief to parents and teachers like Richard—who spoke out against the idea of no notifications as both a kindergarten teacher for 21 years and the single mother of a 7-year-old who is entering the second grade.
“We get letters saying we have to treat it like strep throat or the flu,” she said. “I’ve never known anybody to die of those, but I’ve known six people who died of COVID.”
Those who lost their lives to the virus include her aunt, who fell ill with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated and died last week, just as the NEISD was sending out its flu comparison.
“She had just taken her grandkids to Disneyland,” Richard said. “In Florida.”
As it happens, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Texas on July 17 for a “border security briefing” with Abbott. The two governors played to the basest of their base, prattling about illegal immigration.
Richard and her fellow teachers have to cope with a far more dangerous threat: the Delta variant, which does not spare the young.
“School shootings used to be the thing that scared me most,” Richard said.
She reported that her kindergarteners last year had no problems with face coverings.
“The kids were great about the masks,” she said. ”They were better than adults. They were like, ‘We’re going to wear the masks. It’s fine.’”
If only Abbott were so mature.
Mandate or no, Richard’s daughter will be going to school wearing a mask.
“She told me she doesn’t want to, but she understands why,” Richard said. “She doesn’t want to get sick.”
The daughter watched Richard get a vaccine and understands that, too.
“She said, ‘I don’t want a shot, but I want to be safe,’” Richard said.
Richard wears a hand-sanitizer dispenser on her hip in class and will proceed into the coming school year doing whatever she personally can to keep her daughter and her students COVID-free.
“I just want to go to sleep at night and know I did my best to protect my kid, my students, my family,” she said on Monday afternoon. “Better safe than sorry. I’d rather not have any regrets. I don’t want to lose any more people. I don’t want to see anybody sick. We have to protect the kids.”
By rescinding its no-notifications policy, the NEISD will be taking one step to protect those kids. But it should stand up to Abbott and take more.
The South Independent School District (SISD) in San Antonio was hosting a STEM camp over the weekend when it learned that the father of two participants had tested positive for COVID-19. The district shut down the camp and notified the parents of all the children, recommending everybody get a COVID-19 test.
The NEISD should be able to do the same in its schools during the coming year—no matter what any politician says.