The hallways inside Eloise Japhet Elementary have signs indicating classroom capacities as of September 2020. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Two months after restricting the number of students who could physically attend school, San Antonio and Northside Independent School Districts are allowing students learning remotely to switch to in-person instruction since Bexar County’s coronavirus positivity rate dipped below 10% on Monday.

NISD began allowing students who switched to virtual instruction to come back on campus Monday. SAISD will begin allowing more students to learn in person on Feb. 22, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said at Monday’s board meeting.

City of San Antonio and Bexar County officials announced Monday that the local COVID-19 positive test rate is at 9.7%, which puts Bexar County in the “yellow” or moderate risk zone. Under the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s school risk indicator, that means schools should not exceed 50% occupancy.

About 30% of SAISD students are currently learning in person. Before Monday, about 46% of NISD’s students were receiving in-person instruction.

SAISD campuses will begin contacting families this week to prioritize students who are struggling the most with remote learning. Martinez said the district also would encourage families to have their students participate in free weekly COVID-19 testing available on each SAISD campus before returning to in-person learning.

“We can catch any asymptomatic carriers and do the proper quarantining and help them get access to the medical care that they need,” he said.

SAISD’s positivity rate from its district-wide testing is 0.3%, as of Feb. 5, following the community’s downward trend. The district’s positivity rate rose to 3% the week after Christmas, according to a school board report. About 70% of SAISD’s on-campus staff and students have been tested for COVID-19.

NISD campuses will work with each student who wants to return to the classroom, Superintendent Brian Woods wrote in a Feb. 3 letter to families. Some campuses have more in-person learners than others, which creates capacity concerns.

The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel called Monday for the district to maintain the percent of students in classrooms at 30% or below until all campuses meet certain criteria, such as providing all district employees with N-95 masks and adding air filtration devices in work areas. The teacher and support staff union also requested the district change its contact tracing protocols to include people who wore masks when they came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

In a letter to the school board, President Alejandra Lopez wrote that staff is concerned about the possibility of “airborne transmission” of the virus at work, delays in contact tracing, delays in positive case notifications, and a lack of personal protective equipment. She also wrote that numerous union members “are sure that they contracted COVID-19 at their workplace and can see no possibility for their having been infected elsewhere,” despite district leaders’ claims that transmission is not happening in schools.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.