Both Bryan and College Station school districts plan to welcome students back to campuses Wednesday and have completed additional cleaning to prepare schools and facilities for the spring semester.
While public school districts are planning to open this week, Texas A&M announced on Sunday faculty and staff should begin the semester working from home due to an increase in COVID-19 and flu cases throughout Texas.
According to an update from Greg Hartman, chief operating officer and senior vice president for the university, all faculty and staff, except those “whose duties are essential to being performed onsite,” should work from home Jan. 3-7, and students enrolled in the mini-mester that begins this week should contact their instructor about arrangements.
The update, which is included on the university’s COVID-19 Guidance page, also includes “strongly encouraged” recommendations of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu, getting tested before returning to campus, wearing a well-fitted mask, staying home when sick and self-reporting positive COVID-19 cases.
It also states epidemiologists have warned the omicron variant as “likely more contagious” than previous variants of the virus, noting those who have been vaccinated still can contract the virus, but the symptoms “are expected to be considerably milder.”
The College Station school district is preparing for the second semester by continuing to follow its set protocols, which include using a hospital grade disinfectant and fogging using the Vital Oxide disinfectant.
Chuck Glenewinkel, director of communications for the College Station school district, also confirmed the district has received 2,000 portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems that are being distributed to campuses this week. There would be one machine per classroom.
During its Dec. 14 meeting, the College Station school board unanimously approved the $613,675 purchase of the 2,000 devices and 1,500 replacement filters from Safeware Inc., utilizing Health Support Grant money allocated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and ESSER II funds.
The HEPA filtration machines are recommended as “an effective method for reducing the spread of COVID-19 and other illness such as the flu,” according to a memo from Amy Drozd, the district’s chief financial officer. This means it is something that can continue to be used even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district purchased the Medify MA-50 machines after asking VLK Architects and Salas O’Brien Mechanical Engineering to review the available devices, Drozd said during the December meeting. The review included looking at the average square footage of a classroom and making sure the machine’s noise was not at a level that would disturb the learning environment, she said.
Glenewinkel wrote in a statement the district also is expecting updated guidance from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Education Agency to reflect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new quarantine guidelines.
Last week, the CDC announced those with COVID-19 should isolate for five days if they do not have symptoms or their symptoms end — and are without fever for 24 hours — before wearing a mask around others for an additional five days.
“College Station ISD is excited to welcome its students and staff back to school on Wednesday, January 5,” Glenewinke wrote, noting the district’s protocols will be updated to reflect any changes in the state guidance.
Matthew LeBlanc, executive director of communications and public affairs for the Bryan school district, said Bryan schools have undergone a deep cleaning over the break, which includes sanitizing and electrostatic disinfecting.
An update on the district’s website from Bryan Interim Superintendent Ginger Carrabine stated the district will be following all health and safety guidelines, including requiring anyone testing positive for COVID-19 to quarantine for 10 days. She noted district officials will review those requirements if the state guidance is adjusted.
She reminded parents to keep their students at home if they are not feeling well and to get them tested for COVID-19 if they are showing symptoms and to report any positive test results to the student’s school.
Parents who have had a student test positive for COVID-19 over the break should report it to the school, including the date symptoms began and the date of the positive test.
“Bryan ISD has remained open since August 2020, and by following our COVID-19 guidelines, we have been able to continue offering academic and extracurricular opportunities for our students,” Carrabine wrote. “Thank you for your efforts in this regard. We’re looking forward to a great second semester.”
Both districts continue to encourage facial coverings.