Student in front of dais

A student talks about mask mandates during a Denton school board meeting in August.

This story has been updated to include comments from Argyle ISD. An earlier version of this story misspelled Julie Zwahr's name.

Some area schools have already reported COVID-19 cases after winter break, while others are planning to open their campuses with pandemic guidelines still in place to continue with in-person classes.

The Texas Tribune reported Tuesday that the state’s public schools have been re-opening even as the milder (but more contagious) omicron variant of COVID-19 has disrupted plans for districts around the state.

Some Texas school districts have reported a shortage of bus drivers due to the virus, and Lancaster, a district near Dallas, reported Tuesday that its winter break would extend through this week because of a rise in cases. In Round Rock, leaders sent a recorded message to families to let them know some teachers would be out as their students returned, with other staff members covering their classes.

Denton County districts have resumed in-person classes or are planning to open campuses to students while monitoring information from Denton County Public Health and the Texas Education Agency.

Denton ISD resumes classes on Thursday, and continues to recommend masks for students, staff members and visitors. Families and employees can consult a handy chart that explains the procedures for those who have confirmed cases and symptoms, and for those who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. (The district has different procedures for employees and students according to how long ago they were last vaccinated or received a booster, and according to which vaccine they received.)

Julie Zwahr, chief communications officer for the district, said the leadership is working to keep classrooms staffed in the event that teachers test positive or get sick. She couldn’t confirm the status of the district’s substitute teaching ranks by press time.

“I believe like most districts in the metroplex, we are all working to keep our classes covered when teachers are absent,” she said.

Sanger ISD students returned to their campuses on Wednesday. Masks are optional for students, staffers and visitors, and both employees and staff members are required to report positive COVID-19 test results to their campus nurse. Like Denton ISD, Sanger ISD has a chart posted to help staff and students follow procedure. The chart breaks down procedures for those with positive COVID tests, and those with direct household exposure.

Reece Waddell, Sanger ISD communications director, said the district could struggle to meet classroom needs if the omicron variant were to significantly affect teachers and support staff.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, filling substitutes and classrooms has been a challenge and has continued to be a challenge,” Waddell said.

If enough staff were to contract the virus and develop symptoms, the district would likely send students home.

“Any decision Sanger ISD makes on closing campuses will be dictated by having enough personnel to teach,” Waddell said.

Argyle and Krum campuses resumed classes on Tuesday.

Argyle students returned to their campuses with COVID-19 cases confirmed at Hilltop Elementary School, Argyle Middle School and in district non-instructional facilities. According to the district’s COVID-19 active case dashboard, which was last updated on Tuesday, there were two active staff cases and one active student case at Hilltop. At the middle school, there were four active staff cases and no active student cases reported. An additional three staff cases were reported in non-instructional facilities.

At Argyle campuses, staff and students aren’t required to wear masks, but families are required to pre-screen and self-monitor for symptoms. Officials aren’t limiting seating or building capacity.

Students and staff who test positive for the virus are quarantined for 10 days, and students who show multiple symptoms will be sent home and can return after they are cleared by a healthcare provider.

Richard Herrin, director of communications for Argyle ISD, said the district will continue its protocols while making any chances suggested by the TEA. The district monitors cases closely, he said. 

Argyle schools face the same difficulties in keeping its ranks of substitute teachers at a comfortable number during the pandemic. 

"The district continues to seek additional substitute candidates and we have reached out to our community to help spread the word," Herrin said. "Maintaining an adequate pool of candidates has been challenging and we are in need due to the number of absences we are experiencing."

At Krum, masks are optional on all campuses, and the district keeps a routine disinfecting schedule.

Families are asked to follow pre-screening measures, keeping students home when they have a fever and COVID symptoms or if they’ve tested positive for the virus. Students aren’t allowed to return to class until they have been free of a fever for 24 hours. Students who have had close contact with someone who has a confirmed test or case of COVID can also quarantine off campus.

Staff members have to self-screen before coming to campus.

Krum officials can administer rapid tests on school campuses, but children under 18 require parental consent.

A district spokeswoman couldn’t confirm what would trigger school closures, but said the district will follow TEA guidelines while monitoring county health department information and guidelines.

LUCINDA BREEDING-GONZALES can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

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