HPISD ‘Strongly Encourages’ Masking Amid Omicron Surge

Before students returned to classes this week and amid a surge in COVID-19 cases attributed to the Omicron variant, Highland Park ISD sent a message to students and staff to “strongly encourage the wearing of facial coverings” for the first couple weeks after returning from break. 

The district also moved to follow the new CDC guidelines recommending a five day rather than 10-day isolation period after a COVID diagnosis or exposure if asymptomatic or if symptoms are resolving after the five-day period. Students who return to campus after the five-day period will be asked to wear a mask for five days, but won’t be required to do so, district officials say.

HPISD leaders also say they’ll accept rapid test results and PCR test results, but not negative at-home test results. 

“Our goal for the spring semester is to safely provide in-person instruction for all HPISD students with as little disruption as possible,” HPISD Superintendent Tom Trigg said. “This new variant will likely present a challenge for us during the next few weeks, but we believe that, working together with our parents and community, we will be able to keep our schools open. A small number of classes were shut down for a brief period during the fall because of a sudden rise in cases, and we are working to avoid that if at all possible.”

A subcommittee of the district’s pandemic response committee met late last week to discuss the return to classes amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Due to the current environment, we believe it makes sense to approach the next few weeks with caution in the interest of keeping schools open,” said Bryce Benson, one of two HPISD trustees who serves on the Pandemic Response Committee. “We will continually monitor the situation and will respond as necessary, including potentially revising recommendations in the next couple of weeks. We recognize that we are in a different environment than last fall, with effective vaccines available, high vaccination rates in our community, expanded knowledge about the effects of COVID upon children and experts indicating Omicron is a weaker variant.”

Students who are experiencing symptoms will be sent home by the nurse and will not be permitted to return to school until the student produces a negative test result or quarantines for the five-day period, the district said.

“Parents can significantly help reduce the spread in our community during the next couple of weeks by keeping their children at home from school if they are sick or even if they have a runny nose or cough,” Jae Ellis, the other HPISD trustee who serves on the committee, added. “If a student or parent tests positive for the virus, we ask that parents help us to follow the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about when to safely return to school, including the newly-reduced five-day quarantine period.”

Follow the district’s COVID dashboard here.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at rachel.snyder@peoplenewspapers.com

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