Parents of school-age children need timely, dependable information.
That’s especially true whenever student safety is in question — whether that involves a school bus accident, a weapon confiscated on campus or even the dissemination of COVID-19 case numbers.
The necessity of timely, credible information was at a premium in the Killeen school district last week, as a high school campus was the scene of a knife attack after school was dismissed Wednesday.
At first, the school district characterized the incident at Shoemaker High School as “an altercation,” a broad term that failed to capture the seriousness of the actual event. Cellphone video circulated across social media platforms gave viewers a better idea of what had happened. Images showed a teenager brandishing a knife, and some footage showed the victim bleeding heavily from his arm afterward.
As word of the incident traveled across the community, anxious parents were in desperate need of accurate information.
District spokeswoman Taina Maya said Thursday that Shoemaker parents were notified of the altercation through the district’s mass communication system — a positive development that no doubt helped to ease concerns.
Still, it would have been preferable if the district had quickly notified parents that the incident involved a knife attack and that there was a single victim, whose injuries were not life-threatening.
As of Thursday morning, some questions remained, including whether the alleged assailant had been allowed to return to school, as the victim’s mother had claimed.
Late Thursday afternoon, Maya was crystal clear on that point: The student accused of stabbing the victim would not be returning to a KISD school.
Violent incidents such as the one at Shoemaker cannot be tolerated, and KISD officials are to be commended for stepping up and making that clear, as they did in a statement Thursday.
That said, however, it is incumbent upon the district administration and school board to do everything possible to ensure that KISD parents get the full picture in a timely manner.
In the age of cellphone cameras and social media, it is crucial that the district get out ahead of the issue and clear up any potential misinformation before it takes root.
In a second district incident last week, a third-grade student at a Nolanville school was disciplined after allegedly handing out ammunition to his classmates. This was a fairly cut-and-dried incident, and the school informed parents that evening via the district’s blackboard information system.
Granted, some incidents require more investigation, and additional facts have to be processed before a full-blown press release or memo to parents can be provided.
Still, the more information is released quickly, the more confidence parents can have that the district is concerned and on top of the situation.
Armed with accurate and up-to-date information, parents are more likely to feel equipped to act in the best interest of their students — and that is important.
With the coronavirus pandemic raising concerns prior to the fall semester in 2020, KISD parents were given the option of virtual learning for their students. This gave them the power to decide whether the risk — and reward — of in-person learning was worth taking. The district did a good job laying out the parameters of the virtual learning program and also letting parents switch between the two learning platforms during the school year.
Having those options proved to be a big plus for many district families.
This year, however, there is no virtual learning option. And at all but the eight district campuses on Fort Hood, face masks are not mandated, either. So parents of more than 40,000 students across KISD are understandably anxious about a potential spike in COVID cases as the school year progresses.
Again, timely, accurate information regarding the spread of the virus is crucial.
But are parents really getting it?
At last week’s KISD board meeting, Superintendent John Craft acknowledged that 302 positive COVD rapid test results had been reported to the district. This was in addition to the 273 cases the district was reporting on its dashboard that day — a number based solely on lab tests. Taken together, the district would be dealing with 575 cases of COVID, which would nearly double the listed infection rate.
Craft asserted that the rapid test data is not reliable or trustworthy, so only lab test-confirmed cases are being listed on the dashboard, which is viewable by the general public.
However, many area school districts — including Copperas Cove, Belton and Waco — are including the rapid tests in their COVID infection rate calculations.
Moreover, the district continues to offer and administer the rapid tests at several district facilities. In fact, Craft just informed the board Tuesday that KISD had received another 35,000 tests from the state. If these tests aren’t reliable, why continue to administer them?
Craft noted that the district is monitoring the results of the rapid tests as the results are returned, but shouldn’t KISD’s students, parents and staff have the same opportunity?
Without changing its current calculation method, the district could list the rapid test outcomes separately on its COVID dashboard, to at least let the public know what administrators are seeing.
Parents and students have the right to know when a teacher is out sick with COVID, or when students are not in class because they are quarantining.
But in too many instances, that information is being kept quiet.
Several teachers have spoken to the Herald, asserting that large numbers of COVID-related absences are not being reflected on the district’s dashboard.
And more than one source has told the Herald that at least five KISD staff members have lost their lives to COVID since the beginning of August. As of early last week, KISD had only acknowledged the passing of two employees and did not mention whether COVID was involved. Another staff death was acknowledged on Thursday, but again, no cause of death was given.
Certainly, this is a sensitive area, and family members’ feelings must be considered in making the circumstances of their loved one’s death known to the public.
But the district owes it to students and parents to be as up-front as possible when COVID is involved — even if that means just acknowledging the deceased staff member’s campus of employment without divulging their name.
We are in the midst of a public health crisis and the district must treat it as such. That means providing all the information students and parents need to make informed decisions regarding their health and safety.
Withholding details, suppressing numbers and denying public access to test results won’t get that done.
In many areas, KISD has shown a commitment to fully inform the public — such as bond issues, budget hearings and the ongoing high school rezoning process.
But when it comes to breaking news involving a health or safety threat to students and staff, the district can and must do better.
The community should expect and demand no less.