Updated: This article has been updated to reflect Southside ISD’s decision to report the total number of COVID-19 cases on its district website.
Throughout the pandemic, San Antonio’s school districts have been in lockstep with the City, heeding the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s directives on reopening and delaying in-person instruction past Labor Day. But some districts have broken with the health authority on its guidance to publicly report the total number of COVID-19 positive cases and absentee rates related to coronavirus on their district websites.
Metro Health guidance issued Aug. 7 asks districts to report certain public health data and outcomes weekly to the local health authority including the number of COVID-19-positive staff and students. Reporting the percentage of staff and students that have been absent or sent home in the past two weeks because of a COVID-like illness is also requested. In the guidance, health officials direct schools to post this information weekly to their websites.
The San Antonio Report polled area school districts for their plans on reporting cases district-wide. All districts that responded said they plan to notify parents, staff, and students of a confirmed case on their student’s campus and report the cases to Metro Health.
However, some districts said they did not plan to publicly report the total number of cases on the district website, making it hard to connect the dots on how many students and staff have tested positive for coronavirus in one school district.
North East Independent School District is one of the school systems that does not plan on posting the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases to its website.
“My duty is to report to our parents what’s happening to make certain they are informed,” North East ISD Superintendent Sean Maika said Friday. “Just like in flu season, we report those cases to Metro Health, so we will work alongside them.”
Maika referenced the City’s two indicators describing the current risk level. The indicator that reflects the risk of the entire City was lowered to moderate this week while the indicator on school reopening still shows a high risk. The difference led to some confusion, Maika said, and the district plans to work alongside the City to make sure parents are informed.
“I’m not going to create a dashboard,” he said. “I understand what Metro Health is going for, but that means that I have to yet create and make sure that we have one more thing now in which to try to stay on top of. And then somebody has to continue to try to update that. … What I don’t want to do is give data out that confuses people because that leads to mistrust.”
San Antonio ISD and Judson ISD also said they did not plan to post such numbers to their websites.
When asked why SAISD would not publish that data, a district spokeswoman said the district did not have that reporting in its plans but is looking into it.
Following the publication of this story, a Southside ISD spokesman said the district would report the required data on the district’s website. Previously, the district said it would not.
Together, the four districts enroll more than 140,000 students at more than 200 campuses.
Northside, South San Antonio, and Somerset ISD spokesmen and women told the Report those districts have not decided yet on a policy about publicly posting data on the collective coronavirus case totals.
Alamo Heights, East Central, Edgewood, and Southwest ISDs plan to post this information online. Harlandale ISD is already posting such a report online.
In response to districts’ varying plans for publishing data on COVID-19 to their residents and community members, Assistant City Manger Dr. Colleen Bridger said the amended health directive provides guidance for safe restarting of in-person instruction and requirements for reporting and posting COVID-19 data.
“All public, charter, and private schools are required to provide the information outlined within the Health Directive on their website when in-person learning begins,” Bridger said.
During the Tuesday night COVID-19 press briefing, Bridger said Metro Health could enforce this reporting provision through court action. However, Metro Health would prefer to resolve any issues by talking with the districts, she said.
On Monday night, when Mayor Ron Nirenberg was asked about the subject, he said it was something to discuss.
“I always err on the side of disclosure unless there [are] extenuating circumstances or reasons not to,” Nirenberg said.