Ramona Arreguin and Maria Paras, custodial staff at Colt Elementary School in Marble Falls, check every chair and desk on campus to make sure they are not stuck to the floor following a fresh waxing to get ready for the 2021-22 school year. Staff photo by Jennifer Greenwell
Editor’s Note: This story was printed in the August issue of The Picayune Magazine. TEA issued a ruling about COVID-19 restrictions Friday, Aug. 6 after the issue had been sent to the printer. Nothing in the story has changed, but new TEA policies ended a requirement for contact tracing when a student contracts the virus and allows for 20 days of remote learning for students who have COVID-19. Districts updated their own policies on Monday, Aug. 9.
Face covering requirements are gone as are plastic barriers between students and staff and seating restrictions at sporting events for the 2021-22 academic year in the Burnet and Marble Falls school districts. Back-to-school spells back-to-near-normal for Highland Lakes students after more than 18 months of dealing with ever-evolving COVID-19 restrictions.
“I would say, in many ways, it will be back to normal, barring any mandates from the state of Texas,” said Keith McBurnett, superintendent of the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District. “We’ll be 100 percent in person.”
The same is true in the Marble Falls Independent School District.
“I expect us to look pretty close to pre-COVID,” said MFISD Superintendent Chris Allen, noting that this was true as of July 13. Things could change.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced earlier this summer that school districts could not require anyone to wear face coverings, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks for those who have not been vaccinated. Vaccines are now available for ages 12 and older.
“We have no intention of requiring anyone to wear a face (covering),” Allen said, “but we have no intention of not allowing someone to wear one, either.”
Both districts are taking down plastic barriers — in Marble Falls, at teachers’ discretion — allowing visitors on campus, and returning to after-school and extracurricular activities. Allen added that individual campus principals will provide future details for visitor procedures.
“There will be no seating requirements at (Marble Falls) sporting events, but we will keep an online ticket system,” Allen said. “There will also be tickets at the gate.”
The same is true in Burnet with an added caveat that only credit/debit cards can be used for purchases at the gate. Tickets can be purchased with cash in advance at the athletic office.
What remains from the height of the still-lingering pandemic will be water bottle-filling stations, hand washing awareness, and heightened attention to cleanliness.
“Among COVID-19, we had lower cases of flu than we’ve ever had,” Allen said. “There are some ways we can reduce the spread of any virus and reduce the spread of infections.”
Chromebooks, Google Classroom, and online collaboration are also here to stay.
“If there’s a silver lining of the pandemic, it’s that we’ve learned how to leverage technology,” McBurnett said.
One of the many downsides to the pandemic has been the learning gap it created, mainly because of remote learning difficulties.
To help close that gap, BCISD is adding more tutoring opportunities for students, both after school and in school.
“Everyone is working to close that gap caused by COVID,” McBurnett said.
In Marble Falls, the district initiated the Jump Start program in July that targets students who have demonstrated specific educational needs. Over the school year, the secondary campuses will provide ongoing interventions during the day, and at the elementary level, campus afterschool programs will put a greater focus on academics.
MFISD is also using additional personnel to provide small group and individual academic help throughout the year.
Concerns and questions linger over potential quarantines if a student tests positive for COVID-19 or comes into close contact with an infected person. COVID-19 has not gone away.
“It’s important to know that we have not been released from (health guidelines) that students who have COVID or may have been exposed to someone with COVID may have to miss school,” Allen said.