AUSTIN, Texas — The State of Texas tracks COVID-19 cases in facilities like prisons, nursing homes and child care centers.
But as some kids and teachers return to the classroom, the KVUE Defenders found out the State does not know how much the virus is spreading through Texas schools.
“I can't really control what the district decides for me personally in my job, but I can control what my family decides for my kids,” Austin ISD teacher and parent Brennan Cruser said. “And so I need information to make those decisions.”
Cruser has one kid starting middle school this year and another starting high school. Like other district parents and employees, Cruser is looking for answers about COVID-19 cases in Texas schools.
“The fact that we wouldn't be automatically collecting information on how that's happening is really concerning,” Cruser said.
Right now, no state agency has plans in place to collect data on the spread of COVID-19 in Texas schools. The Department of State Health Services is considering whether to track that information, and so is the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
“This question on data collection is still under active deliberation by the agency, and we expect to have an update in the coming weeks on what, if any, data will be required and how it will be recorded,” TEA spokesperson Frank Ward said.
Ward said the State's public health guidance requires schools to notify local health departments if someone in a school tests positive for COVID-19. Schools also have requirements to close and disinfect impacted areas, and notify teachers, staff and families.
But right now, the State does not collect that data in an aggregate form.
“It’s really important that we are tracking the disease within our public school system so that we can prevent outbreaks from becoming tragedies,” Rep. James Talarico (D), House District 52, said.
Rep. Talarico of Round Rock serves on the House Committee of Public Education. He said tracking and publishing COVID-19 cases in schools is critical for public health.
"That's the only way in a state as big as Texas that we're going to be able to get a handle on this rapidly spreading disease,” Rep. Talarico said.
Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said if the State does start collecting that information, it should be made public.
“We need to know where outbreaks are around the state, how it's happening, how it's spreading,” Shannon said. “And this allows us, the public, we, the people, to better do what we need to do to protect ourselves and others.”
KVUE reached out to the Texas Department of State Health Services several times. No one has responded to requests for comment, but the spokesperson for TEA said they're working with DSHS to try to find a solution soon.
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