Covid a physical, mental toll on schools
Last updated 12/29/2020 at 7:52pm
Mid-year retirements increased for teachers in the Little Cypress-Mauriceville school district and its superintendent says Covid-19 is to blame.
"I think I have seven or eight that are leaving Dec. 31 and I've never had that," Stacey Brister, third-year superintendent and 20-year administrator in the district, said.
"I think Covid has played a major, major role in that. Not only Covid itself, but how it affects people as far as a teaching standpoint. Our teachers are teaching dual roles. They're a face-to-face teacher during the day and a virtual teacher at night."
At Orangefield's school district, which has an enrollment a little over half the size of LCMCISD, superintendent Shaun McAlpin said he had no teachers retire between the end of the fall semester and next week's start of the spring 2021 semester.
He did allow that some teachers "that were close" to earning full retirement at the end of the spring 2020 semester, didn't come back for the current school year, which began in August.
Beginning last March, the pandemic forced schools to adopt virtual learning for the final three months of the last spring's semester. Not all teachers – or students – easily adapted to online education.
For the 2020-21 school year all Orange County school districts offered online classes, though the emphasis has been on in-school face-to-face education. The schools have received and spent millions of dollars in CARE Act funds to create safe spaces to follow protocols regarding social distancing and mask wearing.
The virus that yielded 5,000 positive cases in Orange County in 2020 and been blamed for about 50 deaths (46 says the county, 70 says the state), is new and the list of precautions is constantly changing.
"We've revised our protocols five or six times since school started," McAlpin said.
According to statistics for Orange County school districts turned in to the Texas Education Agency and reported on the Texas Department of State Health Services website, teachers and adult staffers make up about 40 percent of the 368 cases of Covid-19 reported by Bridge City, Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Orangefield, Vidor and West Orange-Cove since July 27.
That despite the fact the numbers of teachers and staffers equal about 15 percent of the student enrollment.
Because of protocols advocated by the Center for Disease Control and put into place by the state, when an on-campus case of Covid-19 is discovered, those who have been in close contact with an infected student or adult, must be sent home to quarantine. The same goes for those who have had close contact with a family member or other infected person away from school.
The teaching roster is stretched. And stretched some more.
"We have been really searching and seeking out subs and trying to contact our retired teachers," Brister, the LCM superintendent, said. "'Would you be willing to come back in?' We hire kids who are home from the colleges, as long as they have those fingerprints [background checks] done and they're safe to go into the classroom. We have hired several former students as substitutes in the last few weeks. We just to try to get them in the classroom.
"It's not what we want. We want our staff to be there. But if they can't be there, what can we do?"
The final 2020 TEA stats posted by the DSHS, show the county's largest district, Vidor, with 4,246 students enrolled Oct. 30, also with the most reported total Covid cases since July 27 -- 119. Broken down, they include 64 students and 55 adults.
The second-largest district, LCM, with 3,198 students on Oct. 30, reported 87 cases, 64 of them students and 23 adults.
Bridge City, with 3,029 students enrolled Oct. 30, reported the fewest cases, 43, including 33 students and 10 adults.
West Orange-Cove, next with 2,516 students on Oct. 30, reported 45 cases, 18 students and 27 adults.
Orangefield, smallest district in the county with an Oct. 30 enrollment of 1,791, had the third-highest count of Covid cases – 74, according to the spreadsheet available on the DSHS website. Its total resulted from 41 student cases, 33 adult.
McAlpin didn't find fault with the total of 74, noting that was only 3.6 percent of the total amount of district students and adult teachers and staff.
But the Orangefield schools boss did note that nearly 40 percent of his district's grand total, 29 cases, have been reported since Thanksgiving.
"Not all of those were not school-related," he said.
Bridge City, which began its 2020-21 school year on Aug. 3, has not registered an after-Thanksgiving spike since its final day of class for 2020 was Nov. 20, before Thanksgiving.
Reporting requirements for schools are tricky, Orangefield's McAlpin said.
"It's not supposed to include people who are positive because of being around family members at home," he said. "It's only school-related positives contracted at school.
"Once we get a positive case, we do a contact trace. We go back and ask them who they've been around the last 48 hours. But kids can't remember. An 11-year-old is worried about what sneakers he's wearing that day, or a girl, or a basketball game or a big test."
McAlpin said Orangefield has used security videotape to trace students' contacts, especially in the cafeteria.
"We try to spread them out in our classrooms and the cafeteria, but we've had some blunders by kids who don't follow protocols," he said.
LCM's Brister worries about the pandemic's effect on learning.
"Not only is this disease causing an economic issue for families, it has the potential to cause an educational gap that we may never recover from," she said. "If your child is in school and X number of teachers are subs .... We know the best quality education is going to come from that teacher, not a sub."
The coming of a vaccine for Covid-19 and herd immunity is the answer everyone is anxiously awaiting.
McAlpin said Tuesday he hadn't heard any plans for teachers to be given the vaccine in any sort of preferential order.
County Judge John Gothia said Orange County was slow in getting the vaccine primarily because it had no hospital and so no hospital workers. He expected county nursing homes to get the next batch.
Others on the DSHS priority list to receive the vaccine while it is in limited supply include school nurses and first responders. Those 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions are at the bottom of the Phase 1 list. School teachers will be vaccinated under Phase 2, Gothia said.