While numbers are generally offering optimism that the country can finally move beyond the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, officials with Williamson County Schools are keeping a watchful eye on a long-held tradition that comes around next week.
“We are concerned about spring break,” said Gary Anderson, the district’s executive director of COVID Response.
The break begins Saturday and will run through March 21. With restrictions already being lifted on some aspects of travel, dining out and other springtime activities, Anderson and WCS Superintendent Jason Golden are raising yellow flags on what spring break might mean considering what similar stretches have brought.
Both spoke to their concerns at Thursday night’s Williamson County Board of Education work session, a lengthy meeting that mostly centered on the effects of COVID-19 on the school system.
“Any time that we’ve had any length of time where students are out of school and they get a chance to do things with their families and travel and so forth, we always have an uptick in the number,” Anderson said. “We’re really interested in seeing how it is after this particular one because the numbers [of positive cases of the coronavirus] are getting down so low. We want to see that it doesn’t have a big bump and that things are really improving for us.”
Golden is also wanting to test the waters in the wake of spring break. He expressed caution during Thursday’s Zoom meeting with board members, staff and any parents or others who might have virtually attended.
“It’s encouraging where we are,” he said, “but I will tell you, we’re not out of the woods. In the two weeks after spring break, that window of time is going to be very telling where the virus is. I’m very curious to see how that goes, with the numbers being down.”
In addition, Golden pointed to the period of time that will follow upcoming TCAP and TNReady testing as a good measuring stick. Students who have been taking courses online this school year will be required to take these tests in person, and that could also possibly lead to a rise in cases.
As of now, however, there are signs for optimism.
“All the data seems to be trending in the right direction from what we see,” Anderson said, adding that Williamson County has seen nearly 20 percent of the population as having had at least the first dose of the vaccine and 8.5 percent the second dose.
“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has indicated that to get to the point of herd immunity, it needs to be 70 percent to 80 percent of the residents vaccinated, so we’re hoping to get to that number as soon as possible.”
Among those who have received a first dose are 2,570 WCS teachers and other staff, with second doses coming no later than April 1. The protection will be at its peak by around mid-April.
The positive signs led to a discussion about the mask mandate that was implemented last August for teachers and students in classrooms. Board members Jay Galbreath, District 6, and Dan Cash, District 2, asked if that restriction could be lifted before the end of the school year or at least by the time the 2021-22 year begins.
“There is not at this stage enough reason for me to make a declaration that as of blank date, we will not have to wear masks anymore,” Golden said. “I’ve learned enough through this that’s there’s too much change, and it’s not wise for me to make a declaration that’s something’s going to happen on blank day and then have to roll it back. …
“For all those who throughout this pandemic have been desperate for something definitive, what I’ve learned from this pandemic is there’s nothing definitive. … But given what we know based on what’s happened across the nation, in the fall it’s going to be difficult to envision why the masks are required.”
Click here to view Thursday night's work session.