Everyone agrees that students need to be in school in a safe and healthy learning environment as the 21-22 school year starts. The challenge—and controversy—is how to accomplish that goal.

In Ector County ISD, Assistant Superintendent Alicia Syverson and Director of Health Services Becky Rhodes have worked collaboratively with Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri, the district leadership team, and local health authorities to develop a cadence for making decisions in the constantly changing dynamic since school opened August 4.

Once a week, the ECISD team meets with the local health department and medical representatives to consider new data. The following day, an internal team with representatives from thirteen committees meet on Zoom to consider changes that may be needed to internal processes, and each decision is documented and dated in a “decision points” document that is posted on the district website. It even includes links to helpful resources for principals and staff. The thirteen committees include representatives from each department, from health services and operations to curriculum, transportation, and support services. After the weekly Commissioner’s call, decisions are finalized by the ECISD team and communicated to district staff. If necessary, public guidance on the district website is updated for the community, but many of the changes are simply in internal processes within the district.

Recent changes in district protocols include streamlining the process for filter changes to improve ventilation and a revised script for nursing staff and principals to use when communicating with parents about positive COVID tests. Water fountains have now been closed, while they were initially open as filling stations.  Alicia noted, “We do not have many mitigation factors we can use this year as a mask requirement and virtual learning are not options this year.”  The district has been offering rapid testing since last year, with school nurses testing staff or students if requested and with parent permission. Five mobile vaccination clinics have been offered since last year in partnership with local hospitals.

Alicia also mentioned the stress on their professional and dedicated nursing staff at each campus. Becky noted, “Last year was hard but then we thought we were over it. Now it’s back and it’s very stressful for our school nurses.” Alicia explained that nurses were having to make tough decisions to recommend isolation for teachers who were positive or exposed, leading to shortages of staff at campuses. School closures could result from having too few adults at a campus to monitor students. While they are hopeful for the upcoming school year, they are also considering worst-case scenarios now, such as the thresholds for considering possible closures.

Through collaboration, shared decision-making, and frequent communication, the ECISD team is supporting one another as well as their students and community in striving for safe and healthy schools where learning can take place. Access their COVID-19 resources at this link.