As school campuses prepare to welcome additional students for in-person instruction, the state will soon publish the number of coronavirus cases by school district. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

For the first time since Texas schools began instruction for the fall semester, comprehensive data on the number of coronavirus cases on campuses around the state will be available.

On Thursday, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will publish data reported by school districts detailing the number of confirmed cases among students, teachers, or staff members who have been on a campus for class, work, or extracurricular activities.

Thursday’s data, published on the DSHS website, will show the total number of coronavirus cases in schools statewide. On Sept. 23, this data will be available broken down by each public school district and charter school, a Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokesman said.

“Data on the number of cases in schools is of paramount interest to parents, students, teachers, staff, public health experts, policymakers, and the larger community,” a joint statement from TEA and DSHS said. “Having this knowledge and being able to publicly share the accumulated case totals from schools in a single place covering the entire state of Texas will help us to further support the health and safety of all Texans.”

The TEA began requiring school districts to report such information in late August, shortly after local schools opened for instruction. More San Antonio students will begin returning to the classroom in the coming weeks.

Districts must report cases from the prior seven days each Monday. Previously, there was no set framework for reporting cases, with district-wide data communicated to the public based on the preferences of individual school systems.

In Boerne Independent School District, which began in-person instruction Aug. 12, the district has published the number of people exposed to a confirmed coronavirus case (88 as of Sept. 11) and active positive cases district-wide (five as of Sept. 11). In North East ISD, the district planned to notify community members at individual campuses of an active case at their campus, but not publish district-wide data to the NEISD website.

The state reporting system creates consistent requirements for districts across Texas and Thursday’s report will include information retroactive to the start of the semester.

State officials are requiring districts to report only on-campus cases, meaning school systems offering remote instruction exclusively do not need to report if a student or staff member learning or working from home receives a positive test result. TEA considers the on-campus environment to include school buses and any other school facilities.

Earlier this summer, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District included similar reporting requirements in a health directive. The directive instructed districts to report coronavirus cases and people absent because of COVID-19 symptoms to the health authority and publish the information on district websites. Several districts said they would not comply with this directive, however. After the State directed districts to report confirmed coronavirus cases, Metro Health dropped the reporting mandate.

At least one local district has indicated its reporting will exceed State recommendations. San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez told trustees Monday night that the district planned to publish coronavirus data for campuses by next week.

SAISD will publish reports detailing the number of people in quarantine and the number of people quarantined who test positive, Martinez said.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.