On 20-May-2021, the Dripping Springs Independent School District held a meeting with Public Forum and a Discussion/Action Items concerning:
     - Public Forum
     - Resolution with TXDOT
     - District Masking Requirements [and recommendation]
As in previous meetings, the public forum was charged with a collection of passionate testimonies about the difficulties of wearing masks versus the sorrow caused by COVID infections. I want to point out a few observed themes with the specific time target on the posted video (https://youtu.be/k-W1J-TZnpQ):
(1) - Selected quotes of COVID-related studies. An example is found at [11:38] with the CDC quote “In-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission.”
(2) - Call for resignations. Several speakers demanded the school board members resign because they’ve not been effectively representing the children and staff. An example is found at [20:40].
(3) - Terminate COVID contact tracing. An example is at [55:24]. Apparently, this discussion was referring to a Reinold Facebook post calling for the end of data collection of COVID infections.
Detailed observations of the above themes:
(1) The first item is an excellent example of using opportunistic selections from Internet searches. It appears the referred CDC page is here: (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/transmission_k_12_schools.html). This page includes quite a lot of information and it has not been updated since 19-Mar-2021; however, the conclusion paragraph states:
"Reducing transmission in schools is a shared responsibility. A combination of effective prevention strategies (including consistent and correct use of masks; physical distancing; handwashing and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities; and contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine) implemented with strict adherence can limit transmission in the school setting…"
The speaker's presentation of the particular quote suggested safety protocols are unnecessary in school systems; however, the overall message of the quoted CDC page is that schools should adhere to safety guidelines. The pandemic is clearly a complicated topic, but repeatedly discussing selected science sources doesn’t address the topic of equal representation of families and the protection of the community.
(2) To me, it appears the Dripping Springs School Board has performed well in a highly politicized and polarized situation. There have clearly been complications including inconsistent protocols, lack of risk metrics, and insufficient communication. However, the goal of keeping the COVID infections low in the DSISD has largely been achieved.
Overall, Superintendent Holly Morris-Kuentz's recommended plan seems a good starting point for moving beyond the pandemic. We’ll need to monitor progress and request the community's continued and committed engagement. It seems like we still need to establish risk metrics considering the recent infections at Dripping Springs Elementary.
(3) My method of decision making, both personally and professionally, starts with a data-driven analysis. I’m astounded by the suggestion of ignoring COVID contact trace data. If, in fact, Stefani Reinold is proposing the termination of contact tracing, it seems in conflict with any fundamental medical protocol. Hopefully, this is a misunderstanding, and she can clarify her position.
If contact tracing causes concerns for freedom and privacy, we should review all our online involvements (social media, searches, shopping, etc.) and even consider the risks of carrying a mobile phone. Individual privacy is one of my highest professional priorities – I’d strongly suggest a deeper analysis than focusing on one topic selection.
In conclusion, it feels like we are finally starting the process of recovery, and the 20-May recommendation seemed a good first step. It’s proving complicated to responsibly transition our safety protocols in a manner that won't alienate any families. Creating a policy recommendation for our district based on those of neighboring districts doesn’t replace establishing an agreed-upon risk metric. The last year has shown the need for fluidity and flexibility in planning the delicate balance of safety and normality. Let’s continue to help the District make informed decisions and commit to rebuilding trust in the community.
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