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COVID-19 impacts community, district rules
October 4, 2021
As COVID-19 continues to change, the district updated their rules and guidelines, and the community spoke on their opinions regarding COVID-19-related topics. While masks were required last year, they were optional for students and staff this year. Additionally, as Dallas ISD mandated masks against the state law, community members came to the Aug. 23 school board meeting to speak for or against mask mandates. At the meeting, superintendent Holly Ferguson confirmed that there would be no mask mandate for the district.
Abbott’s mask policy could affect back-to-school season
In order to comply with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s May 18 executive order, the district began the new school year Wednesday, Aug. 11, with an optional policy towards the usage of facial coverings.
Due to the increased availability of vaccines last May, the district announced April 19 that facial coverings would be optional this year. The announcement was later backed up by Abbott’s executive order on May 18 that went into effect June 4, which banned districts from mandating facial coverings in the back-to-school season.
“The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities,” Abbott said in the order. “We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”
With the increasing reports of COVID-19 cases on the rise, specifically the Delta variant, many students have started sharing their opinions about heading back into the upcoming school year under a mask-optional policy.
Do you agree with the PISD & Abbott policy/order on optional mask use for the school year?
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“I think that people should be given the freedom to decide what’s in their best interest,” sophomore Andy Hough said. “To evaluate their own health decisions to make the best choices for themselves.”
With the Delta, or B.1.617.2 COVID-19 variant, on the rise, a specific mutation of the virus that is more contagious and can affect individuals who are fully vaccinated against the original strand, multiple states have returned back to mask policies in spite of holding previous positions.
A total of nine states including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Washington have all defaulted back to some of their previous restrictions, mandating the use of masks for both those with a COVID-19 vaccination and those who are non-vaccinated when indoors.
In the state of Texas, the new Delta strand is accounting for 83.3% of individuals testing positive according to the Centers for Disease Control. In a recent interview, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, reported that vaccinated individuals may continue to test positive and be infected with the COVID-19 strands, however, their symptoms will be not as severe when compared to unvaccinated individuals. Despite this, many people share concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccine towards the new strand.
“I am wearing a mask this year and I am vaccinated,” junior Angie Paradiang said. “It’s other people’s choices if they want to wear a mask or not.”
COVID-19 numbers rise in school, county
Biden announces booster vaccination shots
After COVID-19 numbers recently increased across the country — including both Collin County and the school — president Joe Biden announced that after Sept. 20, the Biden administration will offer vaccine booster shots.
Collin County stands at 85,023 confirmed cases as of Aug. 20, according to the Texas Department of Health and Services COVID-19 dashboard.
“We’ve had an increase (in COVID-19 numbers) this week,” school nurse Shanelle Stewart said. “Our common symptoms —at least for adolescents — are headache, fatigue and congestion.”
However, Stewart said she couldn’t give a prediction for what numbers will look like in the future.
“Eventually, we’ll have herd immunity,” Stewart said. “Once you have immunity for the virus, at least for COVID, it’s showing immunity lasts anywhere from three months to longer for some. I think for COVID it varies so much for individuals. It’s hard to say what our numbers are going to look like a month from now.”
For now, the school COVID-19 numbers are not available. According to Stewart, the school should send out COVID-19 numbers every Tuesday and Friday to parents and staff in the future. As for the town of Prosper, there are currently 135 active cases, 2,413 confirmed cases, 2,276 recovered cases and two deceased as of the Aug. 17 report.
There are 417 people hospitalized in Collin County as of Aug. 19, with the total general and specialty hospital bed capacity being 2,702.
On Aug. 19, “Trauma Service Area E,” which Collin County is a part of, reported that it had 183 available ICU beds and 1,887 ventilators. Many other North Texas counties, such as Dallas County, have begun to run out of ICU beds. However, beds are still available in Collin County.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Wednesday, Aug. 18, showed a decrease in protection from less serious COVID-19 infection. However, the data showed that the vaccine still provides strong protection from hospitalization. With this, the Biden administration announced Wednesday, Aug. 18, that booster vaccination shots will be offered after Sept. 20 for adults fully vaccinated with the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna shots. The booster shot will be available to these individuals eight months after they received their second shot.
“It will make you safer, and for longer, and it will help us end the pandemic faster,” Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “This is no time to let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, and with confidence.”
After Biden’s announcement, the CDC released a media statement on the same day encouraging booster vaccinations.
“The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” the statement said. “Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
As for those with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the CDC said they expect more data on the J&J vaccine in the “next few weeks” and will then come up with a plan.
Meanwhile, with the optional mask rule being implemented at the start of the school year, which was Wednesday, Aug. 11, students such as senior Emily Cox have chosen to wear their mask due to the rising virus numbers.
“I have noticed — especially recently after the first few days of school — that some people were missing from class from catching COVID or the variant,” Cox said. “I do have a minor concern with COVID in school with the packed halls and classrooms, but regardless of the situation I still choose to wear my mask because it’s what makes me feel comfortable.”
Ferguson confirms no virtual learning, no mask mandates at monthly school board meeting
After COVID-19 numbers began to rise around the district, 40 community members signed up to speak at the Monday, Aug. 23, school board meeting, where superintendent Holly Ferguson discussed virtual learning, mask mandates and crowded hallways.
After residents raised concerns on local social media accounts about possible mask mandates, members of the Prosper community came to the meeting to show their support either for or against masks. An overflow room opened to safely accommodate all of the live participants. Of these attendees, 40 signed up to speak, and each received one minute to share their thoughts with the board. However, the topic of mask mandates did not appear on the meeting agenda, and as a result, could not be an actionable item for members’ consideration.
Ferguson also announced that no virtual learning options would be offered, and parents and staff would begin receiving COVID-19 numbers from the district on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“On Monday, the 16th, the COVID subcommittee met to review and discuss what is currently happening with the COVID-19 virus as well as our protocols,” vice president Bill Beavers said. “At no point in time was a mask mandate advised for Prosper ISD for the wearing of students and teachers. We discussed what measures are currently in place, so our students continue to achieve an outstanding in-person education experience, which we believe is the best way for our students to learn. That plan (to have the school year be mask optional) has not changed.”
Ferguson went on to discuss the decision to not offer virtual learning for this school year.
“We’ve learned that no one can replace the power of the teacher in the classroom for the students,” Ferguson said. “And when you start looking at our younger students and the early emerging reader, it’s extremely difficult to teach phonetics and sign words and all of those things that we know that our students need at that very foundational level. As well as those assessments that we couldn’t perform through a computer screen.”
Ferguson also said that switching between virtual and in-person learning was a “barrier” to students’ learning.
“What we stand for, what we are in the business of, is making sure that your children are educated at high levels,” Ferguson said. “And in many instances, we felt that we were falling short for you as a community on what you were paying your taxes for and why you chose Prosper ISD.”
However, Ferguson said one key reason for not offering virtual learning involved the lack of funding.
“Many of the districts around us were able to get more funding than we did through federal relief money,” Ferguson said. “And with the federal relief money that we received, we’d only be able to hire about seven teachers, and that’s seven teachers with salaries and benefits.”
Last year, there were 108 faculty members teaching fully virtual at the elementary school level. Additionally, class sizes are sitting at around 22 people, which does not allow adjustment of classes, especially since the school year has already started.
“Our classrooms are packed,” Ferguson said. “So, if I start pulling teachers (for virtual learning) that means I’m pulling them away from kids that have already formed a relationship with that teacher. I don’t have extra teachers sitting in the wings because that wouldn’t be being a good steward of your funds as taxpayers.”
Ferguson said the district was able to pull off virtual learning last year because it received direction from the state prior to school opening. To make it happen this year, the cost could be as high as $24 million, which would be coming from residents’ tax dollars.
During the first week of school, photos of the crowded school hallways were circulating on Facebook. However, Ferguson said, there was a “slim chance” of students contracting COVID-19 in the hallway.
“What we’ve learned about COVID is that the close contact measure is 15 minutes of close contact in a given area for a consistent amount of time,” Ferguson said. “When you’re in a passing period, you’re moving. There’s actually a pretty slim chance (of getting COVID-19 in the hallway), but I’m not going to say that it couldn’t happen.”
Kristin Ethridge, a parent of two students, one from Light Farms Elementary and the other from Rogers Middle School, spoke about her daughter’s experience last year when masks were required.
“My daughter is in eighth grade at Rogers Middle School, and she cannot function in a mask,” Ethridge said. “They’re absolutely detrimental to her mental health. She chose to wear a face shield last year because she could breathe more effectively in it. Unfortunately, she was bullied daily for wearing it with other students going as far as calling her ‘face shield girl’ in classes.”
Doctor and Prosper resident Andy Ray has three kids in the district and shared the same sentiment against mask mandates.
“My family moved here from New Jersey, and I represent a large group of people here in Prosper who have fled their home states because they’re fed up with Draconian mandates,” Ray said. “We settled here in North Texas, and we believe that we have the freedom and medical freedom and the right to choose what is right for our children. There is inherent risk in wearing masks, and where there is risk, there must be choice. I have seen firsthand in New Jersey and New York how one mandate leads to massive government overreach, and allowing one mandate is a slippery slope to open the road for more. If you want your child to wear a mask in school, aren’t you glad to live in a free country where you’re allowed to wear a mask in school? No one is talking about removing your choice, please do not remove mine.”
Speakers also discussed how mask mandates affected kids in the special education department.
“I moved here for the special education at Prosper ISD because it is one of the best,” resident Miranda Stockhausen said. “My kid is way behind in speech, and has been in speech therapy since he was two. He’s doing just fine. His speech therapist wears a mask. It’s see-through. He’s (her child is) still learning, moving forward, being educated just fine with all the protections in place. That’s why we have plexiglass. That’s why we have face masks that you can see through.”
Prosper resident Fardin Quavi spoke in favor of a teacher-led virtual learning option.
“Just before coming to the meeting, I found there was a positive case in my kid’s classroom, which is very concerning,” Quavi said. “Today, I am not a representative or anything, I am standing here as a father of my kid who wants to keep my kid – and my family – alive. It is important to keep our unvaccinated kids safe. They are the future of our country. They are the ones who are innocent.”