The Waco Tribune-Herald reported sad news on Monday: Sixth-grade social studies teacher Natalia Chansler passed away on Saturday after testing positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 25. This was also the last day she was on campus at Connally Junior High School. Seventh-grade social studies teacher David McCormick died on Aug. 24 of COVID-19. He had last been on campus on the first day of school, Aug. 18. As a result, the school announced it was closing down for the rest of the week beginning Tuesday. The school is located in McLennan County outside of Waco, Texas. Vaccination rates in the area are well below 50%.
On Monday night, the Connally Independent School District (ISD) announced all campuses would be closed until after Labor Day weekend. The district will use that time to deep-clean the campus. In its announcement, the district said: "This closure is an effort to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and is in line with recommendations from the McLennan County Health Department. Our hope is that the closure and holiday break will provide those who are positive with the virus or exposed to others with the virus, the time to isolate and recover."
Assistant Superintendent Jill Bottelberghe told news outlets that the losses were “devastating” to the community as a whole. According to Bottelberghe, “Although they were in the same content area, they were at two different grade levels in two different portions, as far as of the building.” The school district says that any teachers who have “been identified as close contacts” are asked to be tested every two days until the quarantine time is up if those teachers decide to remain on campus. But with school closing for the week, students and teachers will be learning remotely for that time.
The Tribune-Herald reports that since the first day of classes on Aug. 18, the junior high has had 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Bottelberghe says that none of the new cases have been traced to either McCormick or Chansler.
Connally ISD also explained that while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has made it against Texas law to mandate “face coverings” or restrict activities due to the pandemic, maybe everyone could just wear masks because people are getting sick and dying and schools are having to close. “We ask for your continued help to screen your children for Covid-19 symptoms daily and we recommend that you send your children attending other campuses to school with masks.”
KXXV reports that “free breakfast and lunch meals will continue to be offered to all students and will be distributed from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in front of each campus.” Connally ISD will be running a vaccination clinic on Sept. 13 from 5 PM to 7PM in the high school gymnasium.
The Friday football game is still on, according to officials.
The Waco-McLennan County Public Health Department reports there are 1,576 active cases of COVID-19 in the county as of Aug. 31. There are 188 COVID-19 patients currently in the hospital. Officials estimate that 95% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. At this point, with dozens of Texas school districts defying Abbott’s unreasonable mask ban, it seems negligent for any school district to not simply require masks to be worn on campus. It really is the least that they can do, and every little bit helps.