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Omicron, the highly transmissible COVID variant responsible for the latest national wave, has contributed to the highest COVID rate since the start of the pandemic with one in three positive COVID tests in central Texas. Sitting at the step 5 threshold in Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines, there has been a significant increase in COVID hospitalizations, including pediatric hospitalizations with 42 children hospitalized locally on Monday, an increase of 281% compared to the previous week.

Children are still at much lower risk of serious complications than adults, leading some central Texas schools and universities to keep the spring semester near normal. However, others have added new masking rules or reverted to temporary e-learning.

Schooling during a pandemic has remained a burning issue, with some hesitant to see another year with restrictions. Still others, including Round Rock ISD parent Brenda Barraza, believe their districts are not doing enough to protect children, teachers and families.

“I just think schools should give parents the option to stay virtual,” Barraza said. “With the new variant hitting the kids the hardest, it’s just scary. What about those with pre-existing health issues, or taking it home? My mom, for example. , is vaccinated but is disabled and COVID would really hurt her. “

Here’s a look at the schools around Austin that have made changes for the spring semester:

Austin ISD

Just like the district did last semester, Austin ISD announced that masks would be mandatory on all district campuses in the spring semester. But with a third of the 1,200 students tested and teachers testing positive on Monday, the district sent an email on Monday with a some additional recommendations—Including encouraging students to wear an N95 mask or double mask if possible.

The district also announced 11 test sites, including a mobile van, which began operating on January 3. In response to new guidelines from the CDC, the district said students can return to school after five days of isolation as long as they are asymptomatic. If a student is positive, the child’s classmates will be notified and have the option to stay in school and take the test on the fifth day or stay home and take the test five days later. .

In addition to masking and isolation protocols, AISD said additional ventilation, sanitation and social distancing protocols are in place to help keep children safe. AISD’s spring semester begins Wednesday.

But some parents think the new recommendations aren’t enough — a group of more than 50 parents emailed the district asking for a delayed start, outdoor lunches, and other new measures.

ISD Round Rock

Just two weeks after announcing that RRISD would make masking optional from January 19, the holiday wave forced school officials to reconsider the decision.

An email from December 30 stated that the district reverse his ad and continues to demand masks indoors on school property as the district’s semester begins Wednesday.

While many parents and administrators focus on a scandal surrounding a Texas Education Agency survey from district superintendent Dr Hafedh Azaiez, some parents, including Barraza, fear that mask requirements are not sufficient to protect students.

Hays CISD

Although the district does not require masking, the Hays Hays County District CISD has started install air purifiers across all of its campuses.

In September, the district administration board allocated $ 4.4 million to purchase 1,800 air purification units after the summer wave of the Delta variant.

The district has prioritized Tobias Elementary School and Dahlstrom Middle School, both of which will have purifiers installed by the first day of semester on Wednesday. Tobias Elementary closed in September after more than 10% of its campus tested positive for COVID, while Dahlstrom also nearly closed in the middle of a wave.

Leander ISD

Although Leander ISD does not have masking requirements in place, the district announced on Friday that it would strongly recommend double masking inside school buildings and vaccinating and boosting students over five years when possible.

Contrary to new guidelines from the CDC, Leander said he would continue to require 10 days of isolation for COVID-positive students, but said they had contacted the Texas Education Agency for clarity and planned to move to isolation for five days in the coming weeks.

Texas State University

On Monday, Texas State University of San Marcos became the first university in the Austin area to switch to temporary e-learning. In an email to students, President Denise Trauth said the school will have online instruction only from the start of the semester Jan. 18-31.

Most students were disappointed to have yet another part of their education conducted online, but students like theater graduate Sarah Morton told Austonia they understood why their school made the switch,

“As an arts student and taking classes that feed off peer interaction, it’s incredibly difficult to go into my senior year of college and come back to distance learning for the first two weeks. , especially after having had a great in-person experience for the last semester, ”Morton said. “However, because people in our community don’t take safety measures like masking and getting vaccinated, I fully understand why this is necessary for everyone’s safety. Although I am not the most glad to be back online, glad we all made it safe. “

All campuses and offices will remain open for in-person or online services, including transportation to school, Alkek Library, and LBJ Student Center, and residents’ move-in will remain on time.

But students who live on campus will need proof of a negative test before moving in, and all university-sponsored events will be moved online or postponed after the online period.

Huston-Tillotson University

Following the announcement of the State of Texas, Private Austin HBCU Huston-Tillotson University announced Monday that he will begin the semester with two weeks of online instruction. University President and CEO Colette Pierce Burnett told students and faculty that all classes will begin online Monday, January 10, and will remain remote until Monday, January 24.

The residences will continue to move in as planned, and Burnette has encouraged students to wear masks on campus, report positive COVID test results and symptoms to the school app, and use testing sites and on-campus immunizations available throughout the semester.

Schools don’t make changes

Mask mandates remain in place for Del Valle and Manor ISD, while Eanes ISD continues to strongly encourage masking without a mask requirement.

Austin universities including Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University and the University of Texas did not change their policies until the spring semester, with the University of Texas telling the Statesman reporter Megan Menchaca that they “had no updates to share at this time.” UT’s positivity rate for students, staff and faculty hit nearly 10% on Monday, its highest level on record.

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