Dilley schools close in virus surge

Eleven confirmed cases in district: “Continue to take precuations,” superintendent says

The discovery of at least three cases of coronavirus contagion at Dilley High School last week prompted administrators to issue an order Thursday, November 11, closing the campus until the end of the month.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has now reached 11 across Dilley ISD’s campuses.
Students in grades 9 through 12 were sent home Thursday and told to expect their remote instruction to resume Friday morning.
On Monday, Nov. 16, the district reported that it had five confirmed cases of coronavirus at the high school, two at the Mary Harper Middle School, three at the elementary school, and one at the Early Childhood Center, which has been closed until Nov. 30.
The announcement came only days after the Texas Education Agency launched a program through which school districts could receive batches of coronavirus test kits that would be made available free of charge, first to school district staff and then to students. Districts that have signed up to receive the kits are expecting delivery this week; training of nursing and support staff at those districts has begun.

School administrations at Pearsall, Dilley and Cotulla have agreed to take part in the program and will soon begin administering the 15-minute tests.
Dilley ISD Superintendent Dr. Emilio Castro said last week that while the first three confirmed cases of the virus had been identified at the high school, the nature of the community and the close relationship between students of all three district campuses would necessitate closure of the entire district by Friday.
Students from Dilley’s elementary and middle schools have likewise begun their remote instruction at home.
“We are working closely with the Texas State Health Department Region 8, Frio Regional Hospital and Education Service Center Region 20 on this matter,” Supt. Castro said Thursday. “No other students or staff are experiencing any symptoms at this time.”
The superintendent cited privacy laws in withholding any information regarding the identity of those infected or whether the cases involved staff, students or both.
“We are awaiting results on pending COVID-19 cases at the middle school and at the elementary school,” the superintendent added on Thursday in a prepared statement to parents. “We urge you to continue to take appropriate precautions, not to congregate, keep your mask on at all times in public, and sanitize and wash hands very regularly.”
Results confirming the virus contagion came after the district had closed its doors and switched to remote instruction for all its students.
Dilley ISD reopened its campuses in mid-August and gave parents the option of sending their children back into the classroom or keeping them at home for remote instruction. Teachers were trained in conducting online education via Zoom and other platforms in order to mirror the education that they were offering in the classroom. Isolated cases of COVID-19 contagion in the district after August were handled with quarantine; investigations of those previously infected with the coronavirus revealed that potential exposure to others – notably students – had been minimal.
Last week’s announcement was the first for Dilley in confirming positive cases of the virus on one of its campuses to a degree at which further contagion had not been eliminated.
Safety precautions undertaken at the district during the months in which the campuses were open included rigid observance of mask orders, distancing between students in classrooms and all common areas, and continual sanitization of the campuses by specially trained custodial staff, according to the superintendent.
Recent activities in which groups of students, parents and other community members assembled on school premises have included indoor varsity basketball and volleyball games at the high school gymnasium and football games at Gosch Stadium. The school has also hosted Parents’ Night, Homecoming festivities and pep rallies before varsity football games.
Participation in the annual University Interscholastic League Region Marching Band Contest was optional this year; the Pearsall and Dilley high school bands elected not to take part in the event on Saturday, Nov. 14. The Cotulla High School Band, however, attended the UIL Region XI Marching Contest at Judson High School in Converse.
Cotulla ISD Superintendent Dr. Jack Seals said this week that only one student in the district has recently tested positive for the coronavirus and has been quarantined. Test results on the student’s sibling are pending, the superintendent said.
Free coronavirus testing with 15-minute results has been made available to school districts through the Texas Education Agency this month, and Dilley ISD has begun gearing up to make the test kits available. At Cotulla ISD, nursing staff members have been trained in administering the voluntary tests and expect to receive the first batch of test kits this week.
Pearsall ISD has taken delivery of its first shipment of test kits and expects to begin offering them to staff as a form of routine health monitoring after the Thanksgiving holiday. Superintendent Dr. Nobert Rodriguez said this week that anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus will be offered a test but that a negative test result may be considered false, and laboratory testing will be required.
“We are going to do that out of an abundance of caution,” Supt. Rodriguez said on Monday. “We can’t allow someone with coronavirus symptoms to possibly endanger others or be at risk of becoming more sick themselves, just because one fast test showed they were clear.”
At Cotulla ISD, Supt. Seals said the voluntary coronavirus testing program will be made available first to staff members in the district and then to students who are attending class on campus. Those age 17 and under will be required to have parental consent before being given the test.
“We encourage testing whenever anyone shows symptoms of COVID-19,” the superintendent said on Monday. “The expected efficacy rate of these tests is over ninety percent, so we require that anyone who tests positive for the virus have that confirmed with a laboratory test. In the meantime, we will consider them to have tested positive and take the appropriate steps.”