Public school districts across Galveston County have employed methods such as social distancing, face coverings and even in one case high-tech air filters to reduce the spread of COVID-19 this year. No matter the mix, they seem to have performed about the same.
District officials argue virus-fighting techniques are working to keep COVID-19 cases low and are preventing virus transmission within the school buildings. They argue schools are some of the safer places to be. The numbers indicate public schools are doing better than the general population in preventing virus spread.
Across the districts, the rates at which students are contracting COVID are relatively uniform — on average 5 percent of the student population.
That’s compared to roughly 9.4 percent of the Galveston County population having contracted COVID-19, according to Galveston County Health District data.
At the low end, 1,021 of Clear Creek Independent School District’s 40,588 students, 2.5 percent, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Texas Education Agency and district data.
About 5 percent of students have tested positive for the virus at districts including Dickinson, Friendswood, Galveston and Santa Fe, according to Texas Education Agency and district data.
Although most districts are following common protocols, Galveston took an extra step of buying 116 biodefense air filters for its schools in October. The devices, which can be rotated through classrooms, are meant to clean viruses and bacteria out of the air using a heated filter.
The district spent $100,000 on the filters, called Integrated Viral Protection, according to district records.
The filters are one piece of multiple efforts — such as mask wearing, sanitizing stations, social distancing and hand washing — to ensure that students and staff members remained safe, spokesman Billy Rudolph said.
“All of it together is a huge peace of mind for our parents who are sending our kids here,” Rudolph said.
The district got the devices at discount prices as part of a pilot program, he said. About 343 of the district’s 6,664 students, 5.15 percent, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to district data.
The company that makes the filters, Integrated Viral Protection, has said the devices can kill COVID-19 because they have a filter to trap viral and bacterial particles and a heating element to kill them, co-founder Dr. Garrett Peel said.
“We have seen a decreased incidence of school closures and many without any contact tracing to classrooms with IVP,” Peel said in a statement.
Across Galveston County, districts — even those without new filtration systems — argue schools are some of the safest places students can be.
Hitchcock’s school district hasn’t had to shut down a campus because of cases or quarantines, Superintendent Travis Edwards said.
The district has been enforcing mask wearing and social distancing and is handing out bottled water to keep fountains shut down, he said. The district also had added a room in the nurse’s office for students who are feeling sick so they can stay separated from other students, he said.
Like many county districts, Hitchcock also has increased the frequency of custodial cleaning throughout the day, he said.
Erich Kreiter, Friendswood’s executive director of safety and operations, is convinced students aren’t contracting COVID in district facilities, he said.
Of 1,485 students the district told to quarantine because they’d been exposed to a student or staff member with COVID-19, only one became sick with the coronavirus, Kreiter said.
Kreiter also has noticed a spike in COVID-19 cases in the weeks after breaks, instead of the weeks following continuous school, he said.
“When kids are in school, the numbers are down,” Kreiter said.
Throughout the pandemic, some parents and teachers have raised concerns about in-person learning, including some Galveston virtual teachers who two months ago raised issue with being told to return to educating from a classroom instead of home.
At least in Friendswood, where almost all students attend in-person classes, schools are a safe place for students, he said.
Friendswood has been training staff members and students on proper hand washing, enforcing mask wearing and social distancing and fogging every building with disinfectant spray once a week, he said.
The district also altered its custodial scheduled for more frequent cleaning throughout the day, rather than mainly at night, he said.
“School is the safest place someone could possibly be,” Kreiter said. “I would encourage parents to get their kids in school.”