It’s no surprise that school attendance is down in Galveston County from this same time in 2019. Much has happened since then and is still happening.
COVID, of course, made 2020 such an anomalous year that we have to lift it out of the continuum altogether and go back to 2019 numbers on everything to see what affect the pandemic is having this year.
According to a story in a recent edition of the Daily News:
• Texas City Independent School District showed about 89 percent of high school students attending the first week of classes, compared with 95 percent during the same period in 2019. The district’s high schools enroll about 2,500 students, which means about 275 have been absent so far.
• By day 10 of the Hitchcock ISD school year, 264 of the 1,948 students — 13.6 percent — were counted absent, compared with 45 of 1,780 students — 2.5 percent — in 2019.
• Almost 98 percent of Clear Creek ISD students showed up the first week of school this year, compared with almost 99 percent in 2019. By the second week of school, 90 percent of elementary students were attending, compared with 96.8 percent in 2019.
• In Santa Fe, the district averaged 93 percent attendance in August, lower than the 95 percent to 96 percent it averaged during the first two weeks of 2019.
Gov. Greg Abbott has ensured that public schools at all levels aren’t allowed to require students, teachers or other staff to wear masks. And there’s little support like there was last year for parents who would prefer for their children to stay home and learn remotely.
So we, ostensibly, have more students in physical classrooms than we did last year, not all of them required to wear masks and many of them too young to be vaccinated. And even of those who are old enough to be inoculated against COVID-19, there’s nothing in place to require them to get the shots.
Add to that changes in state and Texas Education Association guidelines about quarantines and degrees of contact and toss in some confusion about guidelines overall, and it’s no wonder parents are keeping their children home.
It’s not a good situation. Thankfully, some school districts are doing what they can to make getting an education as safe as possible in the throes of a pandemic. Like those such as Galveston and Texas City that overruled Abbott’s no-mask-mandate and required students, teachers and other staff to wear masks. And others like Hitchcock and Clear Creek that are pulling together remote-learning options for students who must stay home because of illness or exposure.
So, we have parents making decisions that are in the best interests of their children and school districts doing the same — both as it should be. But where is the state in all of this?
Making it as hard as possible, it seems, for parents, teachers and school district leadership to do that. It would be so much easier to educate and protect Texas school children if the governor would put aside politics — and any aspirations he might have in that regard — and think about what’s best for the children of this state. We’re not advocating that he make any sweeping decrees one way or the other. Just:
• Sync up with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the TEA to provide clear, consistent recommendations for when to keep children home;
• Support school districts that think it best to offer remote-learning options;
• Advise parents to look to their school district leadership when it comes to keeping children safe in school; and, most importantly,
• Empower school districts, the people on the ground closest to the students, to call the shots.
We have no way of knowing how long it’s been since Abbott actually sat down face to face with a student, a parent, a teacher, a principal, a school district superintendent or a doctor, but it seems like it’s been a while. It sure would be good if he did.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner