Just a week after Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that the state would begin tracking COVID-19 cases in public schools, the Texas Education Agency released guidance for that reporting process.
On Thursday, in a letter to district administrators, the TEA outlined two requirements that will provide the basis for state reports with the aim, the agency said, of giving state and local officials, as well as parents, the ability “to make future decisions on how to keep school populations healthy while supporting students’ educational needs.”
The letter details an online case report form that should be submitted weekly beginning Sept. 8, and a requirement to submit first and fourth weeks’ enrollment data surveys by Sept. 14 and Oct. 5.
Districts will be required to report confirmed cases within 24 hours. The TEA and the Department of State Health Services will track and report the cases.
“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,” the TEA said in a statement last week. “This information will be submitted to DSHS any time there is a positive case in a campus community. TEA is collaborating with superintendents on the reporting process and will finalize it in the coming days. As a result, it’s important to note that this data collection effort will be updated based on the input received from Texas school districts.
“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 case report form is administered by the TEA, but the data collection and analysis itself will be a joint effort with the Texas Department of State Health Services. The letter also explains that schools will still need to report their cases to local health officials, who will be responsible for contact tracing and other public health responses.
“Case information should be supplied each week a school system is notified that a student, teacher, or staff member who participates in any on-campus activity is test-confirmed with a current COVID-19 infection,” the letter says. “Antibody tests, which show an individual has COVID-19 antibodies but is not necessarily currently infected, do not require a case report.”
The form will be available to districts beginning Aug. 28, and schools should also enter data for any positive cases prior to that date, going back to the first day of the 2020-2021 school year.
Enrollment data surveys, the TEA said, will help it track how many students reported for on-campus instruction (versus choosing to stick with distance learning). The surveys will ask for approximate enrollment numbers for each campus in the first and fourth weeks of school.
“This data collection provides the total number of on-campus students, which will provide context for the positive case numbers reported to DSHS,” the letter said.
The state will begin publishing weekly aggregate positive case numbers by district beginning at the end of September. The delay, the letter said, is to allow districts time to get up to speed on entering the data. The report format and publishing timelines will be available after Labor Day.
To read the full letter, click here.