Clear Creek Independent School District will proceed with reopening plans despite a controversial Harris County order that would have delayed those plans for about week.
The district’s 40,000 or so students are divided among the northern reaches of Galveston County and southern Harris County.
It’s a fact barely recognized in normal times, but it has caused district officials confusion and frustration over reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic.
District officials late Wednesday announced their intention to proceed with plans to reopen schools as they first planned about a week ago.
The news came two days after Superintendent Greg Smith expressed frustration about how a Harris County health order might affect plans to reopen schools.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on July 22 issued a health order prohibiting schools from opening before Sept. 8 but said it could extend beyond that.
Galveston County, meanwhile, doesn’t have such an order in place.
That has complicated Clear Creek’s reopening plan, Smith told trustees this week.
“This order was a surprise to many of us,” he said. “It’s not something we are going to accept readily.”
Clear Creek’s reopening plan had been to host all students online starting Aug. 24, and then all in-person learning would return by Sept. 8.
But pre-kindergartners, kindergartners, sixth graders, ninth graders and special education students were set to return to in-person classes Aug. 31, which would be before Hidalgo’s order allows.
About 25 of the district’s 45 campuses are in Harris County, Smith said.
Further complicating matters, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday released legal guidance arguing school officials — not local health officials — have ultimate authority about whether to close schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to The Associated Press.
In announcing the decision late Wednesday, Clear Creek officials cited legal guidance from the Texas Attorney General’s Office as a reason for continuing ahead as planned.
District leaders are following U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance in reopening and have spent money in recent weeks to add staff to handle safety measures when school does reopen, Smith and President Laura DuPont said Wednesday in a joint letter.
Harris County has a positivity rate of about 19 percent on coronavirus cases, compared with Galveston County’s 10 percent, Smith said. Both counties are on a downward trend, but numbers will have to stay down consistently to ensure schools can reopen safely, officials said.
The district also has a plan in place to monitor case rates during the school year and conduct contact tracing as necessary, he said.
Clear Creek officials, however, will continue talks with the Harris County Health Department when school resumes to solicit their input, Smith said.
District officials, to comply with Hidalgo’s orders, canceled extracurricular activities at Clear Brook and Clear Creek high schools this week, Smith said.