Waco ISD provides plan for safely welcoming back students for in-person learning

Superintendent strongly encourages wearing masks in district buildings and getting vaccinated.

By Susan Kincannon

As we prepare for the start of the 2021-2022 school year and COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state, I know that you have questions about how Waco ISD will work to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading in our schools and other facilities.

There is no doubt that this year will look different from last year – and not just because all of our students will be learning in person this year. In May and again last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued executive orders prohibiting school districts from requiring anyone to wear a mask. Last week, the Texas Education Agency issued new public health rules, which prevent school districts from requiring students in close contact with someone who tested positive to quarantine, leaving the decision of whether or not to quarantine up to each student’s parents/guardians.

In response to the latest guidance provided by the Texas Education Agency, Waco ISD will do the following:

· Encourage the wearing of masks in all district buildings,

· Encourage employees and students to get vaccinated when eligible,

· Conduct contact tracing,

· Notify parents/guardians if their child is considered a close contact for a positive case of COVID-19,

· Notify faculty and staff if they are considered a close contact for a positive case of COVID-19,

· Update the district’s COVID-19 Dashboard at wacoisd.org/dashboard,

· Continue the use of rapid testing for students and staff,

· Provide assignments to students who are unable to attend school after testing positive for COVID-19 or whose parents/guardians opt for them to quarantine after being identified as a close contact, and

· Monitor the attendance and achievement of students adjusting plans as needed.

In May, I announced that all students would return to in-person learning for the upcoming school year. In part, this was a recognition that the state waivers that allowed us to offer remote instruction last year had expired. Moreover, though, my decision was based on the evidence that our students do better when they are physically present in the classroom. There were significant differences between in-person and remote students in grades, attendance, engagement and other measures of student success. Our families saw it too, and by the end of the last school year, many students who had started out the year learning remotely returned to the classroom.

Students who are absent this year because they have tested positive or who choose to quarantine after being identified as close contacts will receive excused absences. Just like before the pandemic, teachers will send home assignments, and students will be expected to keep up with their work while they are out.

Right now, only about 3% of students between the ages of 12 and 17 in McLennan County have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and of course, students younger than 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. There are two things that you can do to protect our students who haven’t been vaccinated, yourself and everyone else around you.

First, if you are eligible to get vaccinated but haven’t done so yet, make a plan to get vaccinated. We’ll be hosting our annual Family Fest from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. this Saturday at University High and Waco High, and free COVID-19 vaccinations (as well as required school immunizations) will be available at both locations. You can pre-register for Saturday’s clinics at covidwaco.com. Click on the red ‘Schedule Your Appointment’ button.

If those times/locations aren’t convenient for you, you can sign up for other vaccination clinics online at covidwaco.com, through local pharmacies, or by contacting your primary care provider. Waco ISD will also continue to host frequent vaccination clinics.

Next, wear a face covering in shared spaces inside our schools and other buildings. While not required, wearing a face mask around other people remains one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect them and yourself. We’ll continue to provide face masks for employees and students. 

Reading this message, you might be disappointed that we’re still dealing with COVID-19 as we get ready to start a new school year. I am disappointed about that too, but I’m also incredibly excited about the new school year. This is an incredible community, and together, we’ll make this an incredible year for our kids. We are Waco ISD.

Susan Kincannon, Ed.D., is superintendent of Waco ISD.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected]waco.org.

Key to full return of local economy is tied to vaccinations, confidence

By Charles Williams

The Texas and U.S. economies are surging along with the confidence of U.S. consumers as COVID-19 vaccines flood the nation. But the persistence of the coronavirus makes the recovery fragile. 

Baylor Scott & White employees do their part to help community get back to normal. Vaccinations are the key.

The pace of the U.S. economic recovery in 2021 hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The general business activity index, which reflects the net share of Texas executives saying conditions improved or worsened, hit an all-time high in April for services companies. Manufacturers’ confidence spiked, too.

In the Texas services sector, indexes on general business activity and company outlook rose to their highest levels since the survey began in 2007. Among manufacturers, indexes for new orders and growth in orders climbed to their highest readings in the history of that survey, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“All the stars are aligning to have a great recovery,” Luis Torres, research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University told The Dallas Morning News. “The economy is going gangbusters and the [Dallas Fed] forecast calls for recovering all the lost jobs [in Texas] by the end of the year.”

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently issued a revised revenue estimate that gives lawmakers several billion more dollars to spend as they wrap up the next state budget. Hegar cited improved performance of the state economy as COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted over the past two months and immunizations improved consumer confidence. In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, Hegar said he is optimistic about economic growth because of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas and reopenings of businesses in the state and elsewhere in the U.S.

Nationally, the economy expanded rapidly in the first quarter at a torrid 6.4% annualized rate. Personal consumer spending rose at an equally impressive annualized rate of more than 10%.

Our local area is also participating in the recovery. McLennan County sales and county use tax was up 1.6% in April and 7.7% year-to-date. Waco specifically is up 2.6% year-to-date. Many Texas cities and counties are running deficits compared with last year’s figures. 

Despite this, nearly a quarter of U.S. adults say they would still avoid shopping at local businesses or dining inside restaurants after being vaccinated, according to a new national survey by YouGov on behalf of Bankrate. But the economy can’t fully recover until consumers do what they do best in America: buy freely what they want or need. 

The key to full return of the local economy is residents’ confidence: How vulnerable am I if I venture out to shop or return to the workplace? How contagious are my neighbors and friends? 

Herd immunity — the rate at which enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely — may be an unattainable goal, experts say. However, the only sure answer is to vaccinate as many people as we can.

As of May 6, only 24% of McLennan County residents were fully vaccinated. Compare that with the Texas rate of 29% and the U.S. rate of 33%. A CDC assessment looking at hospitalizations in two U.S. hospital networks covering 24 hospitals in 14 states has found that fully vaccinated adults over the age of 65 are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated adults in the same age group.

Encourage your friends, coworkers, and neighbors to get vaccinated. As more and more acquaintances become vaccinated, hesitancy and resistance will continue to melt. That leads to more consumer confidence and fuels the local economic recovery. 

A free online MyBSWHealth account is the easiest way for Waco area residents to schedule vaccine appointments at Baylor Scott & White Health. There are also walk-in appointments available. 

Right now it is time to roll up our sleeves and engage our communities to increase vaccination. The health of our community and our economy depend on it.

Charles Williams joined Baylor Scott & White in January 2021 as president of BSW – Hillcrest in Waco. Prior to that, he served as president and CEO of Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg & Calhoun Counties in Orangeburg, S.C. Charles is no stranger to Texas, having spent most of his life in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].