About 1,000 LHISD students learning from home this week

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By Christian Betancourt

District officials say about 1,000 of the 6,800 students enrolled in Liberty Hill schools are currently learning through remote conferencing. Most are from Liberty Hill Middle School, as the campus was closed due to a surge in COVID cases.

On Wednesday, Liberty Hill ISD Superintendent Steve Snell said three more classrooms transitioned this week into remote conferencing from Bill Burden Elementary, Louine Noble Elementary, and Rancho Sienna Elementary.

District protocol calls for remote conferencing to be implemented when 10 percent of a classroom in the higher grade levels test positive or when four positive cases are found in elementary classrooms.

“Remote conferencing has been going well,” Snell said. “Obviously, it’s not as good as in-person learning, but the teachers have adjusted. We’re doing everything we can to not have the students’ learning interrupted. Hopefully, with the holiday weekend and the students that we have quarantined, we can see a break in the COVID spike.”

According to the district’s website, which tracks cases in the schools, there were 453 student cases reported and 76 from staff as of noon Wednesday. Of the total reported, 279 student cases are currently active, and 32 staff with 174 students recovered and 44 staff.

“We’re seeing some students with flu-like symptoms,” said Snell. “We’re seeing some students with fever, but for the most part, we’re seeing students that are congested and don’t feel 100 percent. Our worry is with some of our adults that it hits some harder than the students. We’re in the process of tightening up our procedures. We’re still encouraging mask-wearing.”

Snell said the district continues to monitor cases of students learning from home.

“If they’re at home and they get sick, the parents let us know as well. The community has been really good and really supportive of reporting cases to us. And that helps a great deal as well.”

Santa Rita Middle School has shown relatively low numbers of cases, especially when compared to its counterpart LHMS.

“Santa Rita Middle is a little bit smaller right now,” said Snell. “They have about 750 students. I’m not sure why there’s a discrepancy in numbers between the two. It might be the less students. We’re doing the same cleaning protocols at every campus, encouraging the same behaviors at every campus.”

Mask-wearing continues to be optional at LHISD. However, Snell said he encourages the community to utilize all protections available to them.

“We’ve seen a slight increase in mask wearing at this point,” he said. “We’re still encouraging it. It’s just another layer of protection against this virus. Social distancing, washing your hands, cleaning, vaccines, they’re all layers of protection. The more layers we have, the better.”

The community’s use of all protections available will help keep schools open, Snell said.

“I think our community has an overwhelming desire to keep schools open,” he said. “They want to do what they can to keep our staff healthy. They’ve been very good at communicating when a child’s out. They’ve been communicating when they’ve been in close contact, and they think it’s best to stay home and quarantine. If you need to keep your child home because either they’re sick or they’ve been in close contact, we definitely support that. We’ll get them their assignments. And they don’t need to worry about those absences while they’re helping to keep everyone safe.”

Snell said absences due to COVID are not penalized and marked as Q in attendance reports.

“So, if you marked with the Q, we know you’re quarantining,” he said. “Either we’ve sent you home like we’ve closed the classroom, or you’ve been in close contact, and you’ve let us know. We mark those absences as a Q, and that just lets us know you’re staying safe staying home. We don’t penalize those absences.”

Schools around Texas are waiting for Governor Greg Abbott to sign Senate Bill 15, which, if approved, would provide funding for schools to offer virtual learning to some throughout the school year. Currently, students in LHISD wishing to learn from home had to drop out of the district to do so.

“We are planning a virtual option once the state funds it,” Snell said. “The state will fund up to 10 percent of your student population. We sent a survey out. We’re still gathering the results of that survey to see if there’s interest. And if there’s interest, we will offer it. We’ll just have to wait to hear from the state on what the parameters of that are, and we’ll get that up and running as soon as we can.”

Snell said he always wears a mask during his campus visits, where he has seen students learning and trying to have a normal school year.

“I’m on campuses every single day,” he said. “The teachers are doing just a great job educating our students. The students are happy — lots of energy, lots of positive energy. The kids are glad to be back in school. The teachers are glad to have them back in school. The hope for the school year is that we have a consistent school year with very few interruptions. Students have missed a lot of time over the last two years, and we want them to be in school, be safe, and have a consistent school year.”

Snell said the community can keep COVID-19 out of the schools by self-monitoring and knowing when to quarantine.

“The number one thing is just monitoring your student,” he said. “If they don’t feel well, please keep them home. A lot of times, they show mild symptoms, and people don’t think they’re very sick, so they send them to school. But they can certainly spread that if they come to school. So, we’re just encouraging families again to keep their kids home and our staff to stay home if they don’t feel well.”

Free COVID-19 testing is available to the public in the parking lot at Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant, 10280 W. State Hwy 29. The test site is open Monday- Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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