Killeen ISD’s COVID-19 dashboard is back.
That is good news for area students, parents, and community members in general.
The dashboard — which tracks the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in KISD facilities on a daily basis — was discontinued in June. As recently as Aug. 10, the superintendent said that district COVID numbers would not be accessible to the public.
However, with coronavirus case numbers rising across the county and parents expressing concern, the district reinstated the dashboard last week.
Viewers of the redesigned dashboard, which can be found on the district’s website, can track student and employee cases since the start of school, which was Aug. 16. That’s a huge help for parents who are trying to monitor the COVID situation at their students’ respective campuses. It’s also a big help for employees at the respective schools being tracked.
The latest figures, as of Friday, were a bit of a mixed bag.
The district reported that 197 confirmed COVID cases had been reported at 44 of the district’s 51 campuses since Aug. 16. Of those cases, 143 were students and 54 were staff.
The school with the most confirmed cases was Killeen High School with 25. Seven of the district’s campuses had no confirmed cases.
As a whole, the total number of active cases isn’t ideal, but it isn’t terrible. Dividing the 197 cases among the 51 KISD facilities results in an average of 3.86 cases per campus over the first 10 days of school. Based on an enrollment of 43,665 students, the case total equates to an infection rate of 0.4%.
One of the most interesting things about the early numbers is the breakdown between schools on Fort Hood — where wearing masks is mandated by the Department of Defense — and campuses in the rest of the district, where mask wearing is optional.
As of Friday, there was a difference, though small.
Eight schools on Fort Hood had a total of 19 active cases, with Montague Village Elementary having the most, eight, and Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary having none. That’s about 2.4 cases each. Other than Montague Village no campus had more than three cases.
The 43 off-post schools had 178 active cases. Of those, in addition to Killeen High’s 25 cases, Harker Heights High had 15 cases and Pershing Park Elementary had 13 cases. Timber Ridge Elementary was close behind with 11 cases. Those four campuses accounted for nearly a third of all the active COVID cases in the district. But overall, the off-post schools averaged more than four cases per campus.
The dashboard numbers are updated at 5 a.m. each day. This can help parents see how their student’s campus is faring, almost in real time.
The daily updates are also important for school district administrators, who can watch for surges or spikes a schools across the district and respond accordingly.
As part of its Public Health Policy, KISD has announced that the district would close a campus if the active-case rate reaches 5%. To put that in perspective, Killeen High has an infection rate of 1.08% The school would need to reach more than 120 active cases to force a campus shutdown.
Other area school districts are responding to the surge in COVID cases across Central Texas.
The Waco ISD school board on Thursday approved a mask mandate for all students, teachers and staff, effective Monday. In the first four days of school in WISD last week, 55 people who had spent time on district campuses tested positive for COVID-19.
Salado ISD announced last week that the district would mandate masks across the district if the COVID infection rate reaches 2%. Like KISD, the Salado district would close campuses if the infection rate reaches 5%
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that prohibits governmental entities, including school districts, from imposing mask mandates. More than 60 school districts and 10 counties have defied the ban and filed legal challenges, which are currently being considered at the appellate court level. While Abbott’s order is under legal review, it is not being enforced, according to a statement from the Texas Education Agency.
Even so, Killeen ISD hasn’t moved toward a district-wide mandate — despite the urging of more than 30 educators and parents who protested outside the administration building prior to the Tuesday’s school board meeting. Many of them came inside to speak during the public comment portion, some giving emotional comments in support of mandatory mask wearing in KISD.
Superintendent John Craft has said he doesn’t support breaking the law by instituting a mask mandate, and last week the board backed him up. A motion by Board Member Brett Williams calling for a mask mandate at all KISD campuses and facilities died for lack of a second, effectively putting an end to efforts to change district policy.
Meanwhile, the district’s COVID dashboard provides the community with an opportunity to view KISD’s mitigation efforts from a more rational, empirical standpoint.
Medical research has shown that wearing masks greatly reduces the spread of infection, protecting both the wearer and those nearby. If mandatory mask wearing is a significant step, the proof will be obvious in the case numbers at schools across the district. In the first 10 days of school, campuses that don’t require masks are averaging 4.1 cases per school. By comparison, schools that do require masks had an average of 2.4 cases per campus. The numbers are not likely to be statistically significant, given the small sample size, but over time, the comparative data may prove valuable to administrators.
Of course, the dashboard can only provide the basic data. It can’t account for where the cases are coming from.
If students are exposed to contagious people away from school and bring the virus back to campus, it can spread quickly among teachers, students and staff. Daily temperature checks and symptom screening can help prevent this, but some infected people may be asymptomatic.
Given that unknown variable — and the fact that children under 12 are not eligible to receive a vaccination — a mask mandate would offer added insurance against rapid community spread.
But short of that, teachers and administrators must continue to strongly encourage masks on campus — especially in crowded areas such as hallways and lunchrooms, or in classes where adequate spacing of desks can’t be achieved.
In the end, having the COVID dashboard available for public viewing is a positive step for the district and the community.
The district’s dashboard page has a subheading labeled “Timely Transparency” — and in the current battle to halt the virus’ spread, both of those aspects are certainly necessary.
Combined with the Bell County COVID dashboard on the public health district’s website, the school district COVID case information can alert parents and teachers of an ongoing surge, as it happens.
KISD’s campus-specific data might encourage unvaccinated individuals to get the shot, or persuade students to wear a mask when they get to school.
Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and KISD’s decision to reinstate the COVID dashboard puts the power where it belongs — in the hands of the district’s parents, students and teachers.
If district officials are wise, they will keep it there.