This letter was sent to all staff this morning. I thought I would share with you.
Dear Alief Team,
I know what you are feeling, and trust me, I am with you. The cooler temperatures and time change means the Thanksgiving break is only a few short weeks away. With this comes the responsibility to be safe around our friends and family members while enjoying the upcoming holiday season. This has been the most challenging year of our professional lives and I know we are all looking forward to restoring some life balance during that week off.
The Board and I realize that opening schools during a pandemic is a monumental task that requires extra work from all of us. Thank you for your cooperation in allowing our students to continue to gain that valuable in-person learning. We know it has not been easy.
While our transition to in-person learning has gone fairly well, we must all remain diligent in wearing our masks, socially distancing and continuously washing our hands. We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and now is most certainly not the time to ease up on our safety protocols. Our concern remains that positive COVID cases in schools across the Houston area are based upon transmission taking place outside of school. As we perform contact tracing on each case in Alief ISD, it is determined that the cases originated outside of school. This is why it is imperative that we continue to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and continue to wash your hands thoroughly and use hand sanitizer often.
I know there may be some questions about how we continue to operate during this pandemic, so allow me to explain…
Alief ISD continues to follow a robust health and safety plan that is designed to protect the health and safety of students and staff members while being flexible enough to adjust to changes. Our plan was developed in coordination and collaboration with the CDC guidelines, Harris County Public Health and the Texas Medical Center. Consultations with health officials did not end when we opened school for in-person instruction, as we continue to have multiple conversations with health officials weekly, or more frequently, if necessary, to ensure that we are following the most current and effective guidelines.
The district’s use of daily health screenings for staff members and visitors to campuses, along with case reporting and contract tracing has allowed us to continue in-person student learning despite cases of confirmed positives throughout the district. I know the daily self-screenings can become a “nuisance” but it is a powerful strategy that when done with consistency and fidelity, protects everyone.
Please allow me to provide context and background information on how we are addressing contact tracing. Each campus in the district has a COVID Response Team that conducts contact tracing when lab-confirmed cases are reported. Once a staff member or student reports a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, the student or staff member is directed to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days.
Close contacts of the confirmed case are also directed to self-quarantine for 14 days. Close contact is defined by CDC (and other reliable health institutions) as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic clients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated. This is complicated but a very necessary step in protecting staff and students.
All cases are reported to the Harris County Health Department who trace contacts outside the school. Schools will also close off areas that were used by the confirmed case and sanitize with hospital-grade disinfectant. Parents or employees are then notified of new COVID-19 cases through email, text messages and/or phone calls. As we collaborate with local health officials on each case in one of our schools or support facilities, we discuss the most appropriate steps to be taken to clean and keep our facilities safe. This discussion includes whether it is necessary to close a school or support facility for a certain time period. Up to this point, our protocols and guidance from local health officials have not warranted us closing a school.
In an additional effort in transparency, the district has set up a COVID-19 case dashboard, which can be viewed at www.aliefisd.net/covidcases
. TEA has required that school districts report to TEA notification of COVID positive cases. It does not require districts to maintain a public-facing dashboard. We, as a district, decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to create and maintain a dashboard for community awareness. Please know that we do our best at adding cases to the dashboard within 24 hours of being notified of new COVID-19 lab confirmed cases.
Let me thank campus leaders for remaining flexible and continuing face-to-face instruction in other areas of the building if a classroom has to be closed and sanitized. This is handled on a case-by-case basis as outlined in our health and safety plan, which can be viewed at www.aliefisd.net/healthplan
I know this entire situation creates questions and concerns for everyone. I also realize COVID cases are on the rise across the country. To the best of our ability, we will continue trying to communicate relevant information with all staff members and parents in a transparent manner. I trust this letter helps clarify a few questions you might have regarding any precautions Alief ISD is taking to continue educating students during this pandemic.
Finally, to each employee in this district, on behalf of the Board and myself, please accept our most sincere respect and appreciation for everything you have done and continue to do on behalf of the students and parents of Alief ISD. The taxpayers of Alief ISD are grateful for each of you utilizing their tax dollars in a meaningful and efficient way.
Stay safe and enjoy your weekend.