The students are back.
Two months into a school year disrupted by COVID-19, three-quarters of students in Galveston County’s seven largest school districts have returned to the classroom, school officials said.
In-person attendance at county schools has increased as the rate of positive cases of COVID-19 has remained relatively low. Still, whereas more parents feel comfortable sending their children back into the classroom, a contingent of families admit they’re still hesitant to return.
As of Friday, school districts county-wide had between 70 percent and 90 percent of their students attending school in person instead of online.
Friendswood Independent School District has the highest proportion of in-class learning in the county, with 5,296 of the 6,092 students, about 87 percent, learning inside their classrooms.
The Texas City and Clear Creek independent school districts have the lowest proportion of in-person learners, with about 70 percent of the districts’ student bodies — 8,051 and 40,000 students, respectively — now attending school in person.
Since local school districts began opening their classrooms at the end of August, the positivity rate has remained relatively level, according to data from the Galveston County Health District.
The week of Aug. 30 had a 3 percent positivity rate and the week of Oct. 18 had a 4 percent positivity rate, according to the data.
Since Aug. 30, the number of active cases identified in school-age people also has decreased.
On Aug. 30, the county reported 322 active COVID-19 cases in people under the age of 20. As of Friday, there were 121 active cases of the virus in that age group.
In-person attendance at schools is increasing as school districts enter new grading periods and families are given new opportunities to switch out of virtual-learning programs. The increases in attendance haven’t been uniform, as some districts have recently seen dramatic leaps in attendance.
In Dickinson’s school district, in-person attendance has ballooned from 6,276 in-person students to 8,995 students for the new nine-week grading period, according to district data.
“The online learning is not for everyone,” district spokeswoman Tammy Dowdy said. “It’s a lot of work for the parents.”
The district didn’t have to make major changes to accommodate the extra students, Dowdy said.
With staggered starts, bringing some grades back before others, the district already has had to get students accustomed to the building multiple times this year, Dowdy said.
“They’re doing everything they can do social distance,” Dowdy said. “There’s only so much you can do.”
In Galveston, the district was trying to limit 15 students per teacher, spokesman Billy Rudolph said. But more students have been opting into in-person learning, he said.
“We’ve had to expand that a little,” Rudolph said.
About 900 more Galveston students are learning in classrooms this month than at the end of August, primarily because of elementary- level students leaving the virtual program, officials said.
Some districts like Santa Fe and Friendswood saw relatively little change in the number of in-person students from one nine-week grading period to the second.
Texas City’s proportion didn’t change by much, spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
To help space out students, the district has put them in libraries and gyms and is having every licensed teacher help with instruction, Tortorici said.
“We’ll do the best we can as long as we can,” Tortorici said. “We think that in-person learning is the best way to learn.”
Galveston resident Felicia Castro was one parent who decided to send her middle school son back to in-person school after starting out virtually.
“I think he’s happy to have some form of normalcy again, be on a schedule, have a routine,” Castro said.
For Castro, the biggest factor was that her son, who attends Austin Middle School, is getting much more work virtually than he’s ever gotten with in-person learning. But she also hasn’t seen any major outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools, she said.
“I think that I trust them enough to keep the kids safe and for the kids to keep themselves safe,” Castro said.
But other parents aren’t quite ready yet for in-person learning.
Islander Zurisaday Robbins-Briz and her Ball High School junior daughter decided together they’d wait to return to in-person learning, she said.
“My concern as a parent is I know where my daughter has been, but I don’t know where the other students have been,” Robbins-Briz said.
But Robbins-Briz’s daughter is planning on graduating early this year, and she’s considering returning to in-person learning in January, she said.
“As long as the numbers stay low,” Robbins-Briz said. “Ball High has done an outstanding job in communicating any incident.”
Amanda Trumble-Maldonado, another Galveston parent, worried that cases of the coronavirus were about to climb, she said.
“I think we’re on the verge of that,” Trumble-Maldonado said.
Trumble-Maldonado has children in third, sixth and ninth grades. She didn’t want to send her children to in-person school only for the cases to rise and their school to get moved back to virtual learning, she said.
“It would be more stable for them to stay at home and do it virtual,” Trumble-Maldonado said.