Several concerned teachers and parents addressed the Devine ISD school board during their July 19 meeting concerned about the upcoming school year and effects of COVID-19 quarantines on learning. An additional meeting has been scheduled for August 2 at 6:30 pm in the DSAC to take action on the policies.
The board heard from teacher/parents Kari Davis, and Rhonda Shelton and parent Sue Geyer first. Several spoke from the audience. Dr. Richard Neel was invited to help with advice and answering of questions.
“Tonight I’m here as a parent and also as a teacher. I’ve kinda held back because that’s my husband (Chris Davis, board member) and everybody knows that, I don’t want to be one of those, but I can’t sit by idly without telling you how I feel,” said Kari Davis, a Devine ISD teacher and parent.
“This has to do with Covid restriction and things that your children and the staff and my children have lived through this past year and/or are planning on, maybe living through this year. I don’t believe we need to send kids home because of close contact, or what our district deems as close contact when they are not showing any type of symptoms.
I am a full believer, and I am a firm believer, and my school nurse at my campus can tell you when we had the rule, 2 years ago, that the 24 hour fever free or tummy bug issue (no medicine still needed), that I would stop them at the door and thank them for coming and send them on their way. I follow that rule very carefully. But I can tell you that our Governor has said no restrictions- no mask, no social distancing, so why are we, the school board, going to impose that on our students and on our teachers and staff?
More importantly though, the amount of learning opportunities and education these quarantined children will miss will absolutely hinder their education. How many of us can say, in this room, that Algebra is an easy class? I cannot and math happens to be my favorite subject. Now can you imagine missing up to eight days of lessons, more importantly or can you imagine your child’s teacher having to miss those days.
As a teacher and a parent, I can attest that children learn best in a classroom.
Here it is; it comes down to taking care of our kids. We want our kids to leave this district with a strong education. The strongest we can, based on their abilities, so they can be the most successful citizens that they can be when they are 18. And sending them home, all because we deem them a close contact when they have shown no symptoms at all, we are hindering.
I have actually called the Governor’s Office several times this summer, I’ve written them, I’ve talked to them and they say it is up to you guys the school board. They have also said while CDC has guidelines, that is not the rules. So I sure hope that ya’ll take into consideration what parents, what staff members say, I feel very strongly that y’all do that, and I sure hope that you do in this particular situation and issue, thank you.
Sue Geyer, parent
Next to take the stand was Sue Geyer, a Devine ISD parent and community leader.
“My name is Sue Geyer. That happens to me my sister (Kari). I just want to express my opinion on the policy that you all are going to set for our kiddos for the upcoming school year. I am not sure what you have in mind. But I am going by the texts I received this summer, from the reminders from the coaches, when there have been kiddos that tested positive when we were exposed. I am going to read it to you, this was from Coach Quisenberry- “It said if your kid has been notified as a close contact at the Zephyr Church Camp this past week, please do not allow them to attend our athletic workouts this week unless your child can prove that they were vaccinated or tested positive to Covid in the last 3 months. If you are not sure if your child was in close contact we ask that you, out of an abundance of caution, please do not allow your child to attend workout. ”
“I have two daughters that attended that camp and they were in close contact. My children have all had Covid. I have had Covid and my husband had Covid. We got through it and we are here thank God.
“I don’t feel comfortable vaccinating my children with something that I don’t know enough about. It’s new, and that is not something my husband and I are willing to put into their bodies at this time. If it is mandated that they have to get it, at that time we will. We are rule followers. But when it is our choice, right now we don’t want our children vaccinated. At the same time, I don’t want my kid to be quarantined at home because they may get Covid. So far my youngest daughter has been in close contact with Covid that we know of, this summer twice. First one was at Camp Zephyr, the other at another camp she was involved in. We followed the rules, she didn’t go to the sports clinics yet she never showed any signs, any symptoms, any reason why she should be at home except that we were told by the school that she couldn’t come to the workouts.
“While I understand what you are doing, I would like for you to please look a little further into it because my kids need to be in school this year. One is a senior and one is a freshman. My senior is taking college courses that I cannot teach her how to do. My freshman is taking difficult honors courses that I probably cannot teach her how to do. So if she is mandated to stay home because she is in close contact with someone in the classroom that has tested positive for Covid, she is being penalized really for a decision that my husband and I have made, that is not to vaccinate our daughter.
“I would like for you to please consider that I am not a doctor by any means, but all I know is from what I have read and the doctors I have talked to, chances are my kiddo is not going to get Covid again. Also I don’t have proof that have been tested in the last 3 months, because it was 10 months ago when they had it, yet I know that 9 months after I had Covid I was tested and I still had antibodies in my system.
“So I would like for y’all to come up with some sort of policy that just because my child was exposed doesn’t mean she has to be penalized and stay home from school for a period of time, when she really needs to be in the class learning what is being taught. Thank you very much for listening,” said Geyer.
Rhonda Shelton- 1st grade teacher
“I am Rhonda Shelton and I teach first grade. I want to start off with we hope that the district can be normal, pre Covid. We are blessed to be able to be at school at least. My agenda tonight is to speak about the dividers. We appreciate the dividers that were made, and the hard work that was put into them. And the money that it cost to make them. I know it was pricey. And the teachers I know appreciate that. They did accomplish what we needed to be done at that time.
Now throughout the year of teaching it came to our realization that students were having a really hard time seeing through the dividers. They couldn’t see through them, above, around them. And you know teaching elementary students it is very hard to keep them on task so that was the challenge in itself. But when they have something in front of them preventing them from seeing and staying focused it adds to your challenge. So in my case, most of the times the students would move to the carpet and sit where they could be engaged and on task and that you know would defeat the purpose of them being with the dividers.
So we are asking, and I know I speak for several teachers, to eliminate the dividers, please don’t make us use the dividers, get rid of them, store them in case Lord forbid but please eliminate them and not enforce the dividers on present teachers to use them.
I also want to say I made calls to Governor Abbott and asked for verification, I agree with what Kari and Sue said that we really need no forced quarantines. We need the kids at school. We know from the fact that we had to place students into second grade that should not have been placed that maybe should have been retained. So, we know already that they are behind. We know they are going to struggle. If they stay home because they are close contact or quarantined then it is going to add to the problems they are already having. It is going to build on a ladder that we will continually stay catching up, catching up. Please no forced quarantines. Thank you
Dr. Richard Neel
“I would like to introduce Dr Richard Neel. We asked him to come tonight and answer your questions that you might have,” said Dr. Todd Grandjean, Devine ISD Superintendent.
“Certainly anytime you get science and politics they don’t mix well. First of all, the social distancing, was totally arbitrarily set, has no basis in science. It’s just common sense though that if someone’s coughing on you or if you are in a car or tight space together that it’s more likely to spread. It’s also been shown that if you have people quarantining in the same house using the same bathroom, it’s more likely to spread, than if you are using two separate bathrooms,” said Dr. Nell.
“Right now we are having a surge. I had six cases one day and 14 the next,” Dr. Neel said. “The county’s gone from three to 45 active cases.” It’s now above 80 active cases (a week after this meeting).
“I don’t really believe that people are getting Covid again. There are people who still test positive for Covid even a year later, but they are not shedding the virus.”
“The way this virus works, it’s almost like clockwork. After being exposed, for the next three days they are usually not contagious, but the following three days they aren’t having symptoms, but they are contagious and are spreading it around. Then usually right on day 7, they come down with symptoms. Sometimes day 6, but usually day 7,” Neel said.
“So if you are looking at exposure and you know someone’s gotten exposure, unfortunately quarantine is still the best answer,” Neel said. “I have always recommended people quarantine for at least seven days to see if any symptoms develop. As far as who is a close contact, well if one of us in this room, after being in here an hour together comes down with Covid three days from now, then we would have to quarantine.”
“Vaccines are a real personal choice. I am not telling anyone to get vaccines or not to get it. RNA vaccine technology was developed 30 years ago, and the reason there were no other RNA vaccines on the market before now, is because none of them made it through clinical trials. I don’t know what they fixed or thought was better about this one. Children and vaccines…especially vaccines are still under the emergency use authorization, still experimental….I am real cautious personally.”
“There is a Nova Vax that is more of a traditional vaccine. It should be out sometime soon,” Dr. Neel said.
Board member Renee Freida stated, “Dr. Neel how do you account for the fact that there are folks who had Covid, perhaps been in the hospital, had multiple tests for months showing they are no longer positive, and then end up back in the hospital positive for Covid? I am just surprised at the number of people I personally know, because we test a lot at work, and I know several who have had Covid and who come back and then test positive again with severe symptoms again later.”
“You can never say never. There are always going to be exceptions. There are definitely going to be people who will get it again,” Dr. Neel said.
Chris Davis asked, “Do you have anything to say about the accuracy of tests?”
“Yes, I have seen people test negative five times in the hospital and have everything that looks like Covid, and finally test positive on the 6th test. That’s the problem especially with PCR tests. I have had a lot of people test negative who I think were positive,” Neel said.
Will the vaccine prevent me from spreading it to someone else?
“If a vaccine is working like it is supposed to work, it should theoretically prevent the spread,” Neel said.
How do the new variants affect the effectiveness of vaccines?
“I’ve had probably at least four people in the past few weeks that have had the vaccine that have come down with Covid. That’s why Pfzier is talking about a booster shot, because they are not sure if it will cover the variants,” Neel said.
A teacher commented, “If you have a kid in quarantine at home, the school is not getting paid for them.”
Davis added, “Worse than that, your kids are going to miss out on a week of education, where you’ve got lessons and objectives and they could fall severely behind.”
“I taught first grade online, and they were all behind”, said one teacher.
“Quarantine sounds great if it can be done correctly,” Davis said. “Our first responsibility as a board is to give our kids a good education, and that means figuring out a way to keep our kids in the classroom as much as possible, and keeping them healthy. And that’s what we are trying to figure out how to do, at least that’s what I am. But the more they stay in the classroom, the better. We don’t want anybody to get sick, or sent home, but we know that’s going to happen at some point.”
Later, Dr. Neel commented, “A lot of how sick you get depends on the viral load that you get…That’s why masks are effective, at least a decent mask. If you get a little virus, your body can most likely fight it off….But there’s a certain threshold.”
“Sometimes, hand washing and hygiene can really help,” Neel said.
“I think hand washing is one of the most important things,” Mrs. Buvinghausen said.
“Basically, people who have been exposed need to be quarantined. How to do the quarantine, I can do that quarantine, I can actually look into some of the studies and options and what others have done, so kids aren’t missing too much,” Neel said.
How long does a kid who tests POSITIVE need to quarantine?
“Ten days after the onset of symptoms, as long as they are fever free for the last three days. The problem with this virus too is that there are a lot of people with this virus that do not run fevers, so checking temperatures does not always work.”
“I wish I had better answers. There are so much politics, medicine, bad medicine, and even bad studies out there,” Neel said.
If a kid has to quarantine, what is the school going to do to help these kids get caught up and the education he deserves?
“The school is going to try to provide as much money as we can to help with this. We have to figure out a way to attack this. Obviously, it’s going to be personnel. We are looking at $1.2 or $1.4 million we are going to have to figure out how to spend….tutors. We are going to have to look at finding some retired teachers,” Grandjean said.
Mrs. Davis stated, “I am totally against quarantine with a kid as a close contact deemed by a district. I am totally against it, even though you went to way more school than me, and I do trust you. We have seen you in a professional manner, but the mom and teacher in me says yes I need to protect their health, but we also need to protect their future. That’s my concern. What do we do to keep these kids from falling behind?”
Dr. Neel responded, “Just for the record, I skipped school every Friday my senior year.”
Davis said “I am just saying, I know this is a real thing. There are a lot of people who are really getting sick. But I also know people who really need to be in the classroom during the regular school day, and this is their only chance. We really need to think about those kids.”
A parent, Lenard Geyer, added that his only symptom was loss of smell and stated, “I don’t want to live in fear, and I don’t want to teach our kids to live in fear.”
Dr. Neel commented, “I actually spent all day at Methodist trying to get care for a gentleman who is really sick with Covid. It is sad that there is so much that we still don’t know about this virus. I have never known a virus, in all of my history of studying viruses that affected the brain like this virus does. Some studies show that it affects the brain more than the lungs.”
What is your professional recommendation for quarantine or not quarantining kids in a classroom?
“Well it depends, how many days were they in that classroom after being symptomatic? How much interaction do they really have in that class? So you want to air on the side of caution I suppose,” Neel said.
So what’s the criteria then if you don’t quarantine?
“Well that’s what I am saying. I don’t know of another way other than quarantining the class,” Neel said. “Unless they are vaccinated or have had Covid.”
Davis asked, “Quarantining kids that are going to survive this, why? What are we going to do if we have a kid who is exposed two times in one six weeks?”
“Another option is to give parents the choice,” Neel said.
Parents expressed, exposures are just a revolving cycle.
“Another thing is if you know your kids have been exposed at home, don’t send them to school,” Neel said.
What is the school boards definition of close contact?
“So if you are within three feet of a person…..There’s two clarifying criteria that TEA uses. If both people have a mask on and good ventilation. If you are a close contact and choose to come take a test on the 5th day and it’s negative, you can come back on the 7th day. If you choose not to take a test, you can come back after the 10th day,” Grandjean said.
Frieda asked, “I heard people mention that we don’t have to have masks because of the governor’s order, unless kids are on a bus, then there’s a federal mandate that trumps the governor’s order….There’s a federal law that includes school buses.”
(It was determined later in the meeting after talking to their attorney that school buses are not public transportation so the masks order does not apply to school buses after all according to Pepper.)
Nancy Pepper said, “As you can see this is a big, big topic, and we thank you all for coming out to speak….We will have a special meeting when we will put protocols in place, so be sure to watch for that. But we do appreciate you all and Dr. Neel for coming.”
Dr. Neel stated, “I will actually do some more research to address some of the questions that have been asked.”
The next meeting to consider and take action on the Covid restrictions will most likely be during the first week of August, the same evening as a conference hosted by Region 20 with Superintendents and School Nurses on Monday, August 2. “We will try to get out some information about the meeting and options so citizens can see what we are considering and give us their thoughts,” said Board President Nancy Pepper.
Agendas have to be posted 72 hours in advance and can be found on devineisd.org, as well as their front door information area.
By Kathleen Calame