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What an exciting time to be a Houston Tiger! We opened up our new gym complex two weeks ago. Thank you to all of those who made this possible and who attended this home game and ribbon cutting. This is a moment that will reach into the next 50-80 years of memories of people who will pass through the Houston School District.
This week we hold homecoming activities and welcome back former graduates to Houston and the school. Friday evening will be our homecoming game against Ava. Friday night will be the Homecoming queen crowning and the homecoming dance. Saturday, we will host our very first volleyball tournament in the new gymnasium. Hopefully the first of many to come. Also, on Saturday the Alumni meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in the Hiett Gymnasium. Sunday, the Houston Lions Club will be hosting the annual fish fry benefit to help sponsor the many great programs the Lions club supports, including many for the Houston School District.
Our two new vocational classes (Health Science and Welding) are off to a great start. And, we now have over 70 students in our 3- and 4-year-old preschool classes. Over the next few weeks, the Houston School District will begin closing on the old Lee building (Piney River Technical Center) which will be used to improve our vocational facilities. We have also completed door replacements throughout the district and several window replacements and other projects are in the planning stages.
In November/December we will reapply for a track grant with the intent of replacing our old track and providing a much needed facility improvement for our sports and P.E. students. This is another project that has taken some time but is a priority for the Houston School Board and the district.
As we see all of these great things happening, it is important to remember that we have faced some real challenges. While we had hoped the 2021-2022 school year would be somewhat back to normal, the Covid virus has truly affected the first few months of the school year. Even before the year began we started seeing positive cases and quarantines with our staff and a few of our students. The virus has affected many. Some more than others. And we have lost some close to our district family. While we learned many lessons from last year, we still continue to learn how to do our work while dealing with Covid.
Covid: All of us have been impacted by this virus in some way. Our goal as a school district is to protect our students and staff, but ensure that each one of them are here at school as much as possible. There are several questions that people ask frequently. Here are some of the answers to those questions.
What do we base quarantine status on? Currently we follow our local Texas County Health Department guidelines. These are based on both CDC and Missouri Health Department guidelines. Students and staff within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer in a 24-hour period of a positive Covid person are to be quarantined. Staff and students who have been vaccinated do not have to be quarantined but can remain with a mask and monitored for symptoms. Missouri has amended quarantine guidelines based on information school districts including Houston submitted last year. The data submitted gave evidence that we were quarantining too many and that we were not seeing the virus spread in schools or at least very little. The guidelines for Missouri changed. If all parties are masked, social distancing does not matter and those exposed can remain at school while masked and monitoring for symptoms. However, if we do not require all to wear a mask, students and staff have no choice in whether they will be quarantined or not.
Why do we follow local health department guidelines?
The district is certainly concerned with student and staff safety. We rely on the health department to guide us through multiple incidences such as a case of mumps, or some other type of health issue that may come up through the year. However, we are also guided by DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) to follow our local health department guidelines. Students who should be in quarantine are not allowed to participate in games or activities. Schools that do not follow these guidelines would have to forfeit their activities whether it be for a sport, choir, band, scholar bowl or other activity. We do not want that to happen to any of our students, teams or groups that have worked so hard to participate or compete in activities. Below is a link to an article in Missourinet regarding statements DESE released on these topics.
The Houston School District has worked closely with the health department to minimize the effect of the virus on our staff and students. We greatly appreciate the work they put into our community.
Why is the school doing testing?
A few weeks ago we were notified that the health department would no longer do the Antigen testing for schools. While we greatly appreciate the assistance the health department has given the district in the past, we could not end the program. Testing allows for some staff and students (currently for grades 6-12) to test on the seventh day and if they test negative and have shown no symptoms they can return on the eighth day with a mask and continued monitoring for symptoms. Our staff has been trained and testing is carried on outside the school building. This is one more way to keep students in our buildings.
Why do we currently have a mask mandate?
We started the year with a mark of 9%. When we reached 9% of our students and/or staff in quarantine or out with a positive case, we would go to a mask mandate. The reason for this is those numbers are extremely high for our teachers and staff to balance teaching all day during the regular day and then working after school and weekends to keep up with those students out due to Covid. With each positive test we were having 12-20 students often quarantined. Further, we see that virtual instruction whether due to school closure or quarantine is not as effective as face-to-face instruction. Therefore, we began with a 9% threshold. Based on what we have seen, that number may have been too high. That also does not mean that just as soon as we drop below 9% we go right back to recommended. If that were the case, we are only hovering at a very high number of students out. Those numbers are at a point where staff are stretched thin to cover and educate all students. Nurses and office staff are covered up with phone calls and tracing. The return has to be based on if we believe the numbers are not only down but will stay down. We have to look at the number of current positive cases, number of quarantines per day, and the current number of county (or local) cases.
Masks are a contentious issue. No one likes a mask mandate. Schools around us have chosen different avenues. Some have maintained masks as recommended. Some of those are getting by while others are struggling to keep up with quarantines. Others began the year with a mandate in pace. A few have even instituted that for grades K-12. Others like Houston and Salem started the year off as recommended but as the cases grew switched to mandatory. At Houston we have seen a total of 295 quarantines and 34 positive cases since Aug. 18. This includes both students and staff. Masks are our only tool right now to limit quarantines and keep our kids engaged and participating. As we continue to watch the numbers there seems to be a slight decline in the numbers across the county. Obviously our quarantine numbers have dropped in the district due to the current mandate, but we are still watching those other factors such as positive cases. If we return too soon we are back to high numbers of quarantine and additional instruction is lost for many.
I am extremely proud of my teachers and staff for the work they have done so far this year. I also believe they want to see all of their students in class, in person. We are hopeful that with all the great things happening in our district we can see the decline of Covid and enjoy the rest of the year. There is a lot to be excited about.