This story has been updated.
Though much of deciding how to move forward with school reopening policies depends on tracking coronavirus cases, data published by the Department of State Health Services and Texas Education Agency Thursday featured a few inaccuracies among Bexar County public school districts.
Public schools are required to report positive coronavirus cases on their campuses, which DSHS and TEA publish online. The two agencies began providing district-level data on Thursday but released incorrect enrollment numbers of two San Antonio districts and inaccurate student coronavirus case numbers for one school district.
Northside Independent School District has had six coronavirus cases in its student population since July 27, said spokesman Barry Perez. That conflicts with the number published by DSHS and TEA, which was nine.
“When we started reporting as required on Aug. 24, the start of our school year through the [Sept. 20], we have only six confirmed student cases,” Perez said. “So, we’re not sure where they are getting nine.”
Perez corrected the enrollment number provided by DSHS and TEA as well – 102,200 students were enrolled at NISD schools as of last Thursday, much fewer than the state-published number of 113,750 enrolled in the first week of school. The state agencies also inaccurately reported East Central Independent School District’s enrollment as 51. Spokesman Brandon Oliver said the district had approximately 9,500 students enrolled as of Sept. 24.
“Our high school alone has over 3,000 students,” he said.
TEA said in Friday that the agency discovered “slight discrepancies” in the reported district-level coronavirus data.
“Specifically, DSHS and TEA realized that two technical issues required remediation,” TEA said in a statement. “The first resulted from integrating the school COVID case report data set with the school enrollment data set. The second was the addition of 275 reported student cases and 203 reported staff cases of COVID-19 submitted by districts after the initial submission period. In an effort at greater transparency and the most accurate case numbers, the cumulative case total was updated to reflect these new report submissions.”
DSHS and TEA are finalizing its case data and new numbers will be posted on Monday, according to TEA.
ECISD reported two student coronavirus cases and four staff cases since July 27. Oliver credited the low number to the district’s preparation for restarting classes.
“In a pandemic, you can only come up with a plan … you prepare for it,” Oliver said. “I think we’ve done a tremendous job. The last two [students] who tested positive were actually siblings from the same household. We’re looking at our data and comparing it to the city’s data – we’re actually pleased and happy that for the most part people are healthy.”
At NISD, the largest school district by far in Bexar County, 35 staff coronavirus cases brought the total number of known coronavirus cases to 41. Perez said though the district was not sure what to expect from starting classes in the middle of a pandemic, officials put protocols in place to prevent coronavirus transmission and to respond to cases popping up on its campuses.
“Certainly, our goal is always to have zero cases of COVID on our campuses,” he said. “That’s always going to be our goal.”
NISD reported not knowing where 14 of the cases originated. Most school districts’ coronavirus cases either originated from off-campus sources or were not traced, according to the state-published data. All Bexar County public school districts are responsible for their own contact tracing, although the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District will provide assistance when needed, Metro Health spokeswoman Jennifer Pue said. School districts are to report whether the coronavirus infections originated on campus or off campus, or classify the source of transmission as “unknown.”
North East Independent School District, the county’s second-largest public school district, reported 25 cases of coronavirus since July 27. Most of those cases were reported prior to Sept. 14; the school district started allowing students to return to classrooms on Sept. 8. Teachers were required to teach in the classroom before that, spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said. Like other school districts, students are required to wear masks, keep physical distance from each other, and stay in “pods” to minimize extra interaction.
“Right now, we are really limiting the movement,” Chancellor said. “For example, at the secondary level, the students are not rotating as they normally would from class to class. They’re staying in one location.”
While most Bexar County-area public schools began their fall semesters remotely and are still phasing in in-person learning, Comal and Boerne Independent School Districts allowed any student who wanted to attend classes in person to do so from the first day. Now, the two have reported some of the highest numbers of cumulative coronavirus cases among 19 Bexar County-area districts since the fall semester started.
According to the DSHS and TEA-published data, 25 Comal ISD students have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since school started. A dozen of those cases were reported between Sept. 14 and Sept. 20. Comal ISD reopened its campuses right away and had more than 25,000 students enrolled in the first week of school.
Comal ISD also reported nine staff members that tested positive for the coronavirus since July 27. Representatives for Comal ISD did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
Boerne ISD reported 17 coronavirus cases among students and five among staff since July 27. A representative from Boerne ISD did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The 19 Bexar County-area public school districts have reported 78 student coronavirus cases and 133 staff cases total since July 27. Like the rest of the state, most of the infections in students were found in older students.
Meanwhile, Somerset Independent School District reported only one case in its staff. The small district in Southwest Bexar County started mass testing asymptomatic students and staff members last Wednesday, which turned up one positive coronavirus test result among its students, Superintendent Saul Hinojosa said. That case will be reflected in next week’s state-released data.
Alamo Heights and Fort Sam Houston Independent School Districts also reported one coronavirus case each since July 27.
DSHS and TEA will continue releasing district-level data each week.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the Texas Education Agency.