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COVID-19 precautions become normal in Central Texas school districts

6 News talked with leaders of Waco and Temple Independent School Districts who say COVID-19 procedures are ingrained in to every school year now.

TEMPLE, Texas — For more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic had been a front runner of concerns during the school year. However, this year as students and staff return to the classroom the virus has taken a back seat to safety and security.

But, that doesn't necessarily mean school districts aren't doing anything about the COVID-19 pandemic.

6 News talked to leaders of Waco and Temple Independent School Districts who say COVID-19 procedures are ingrained into every school year now.

"COVID has proven that it is here to stay and that it's not going anywhere," said Christine Parks, spokeswoman for TISD. "We have to continue to adapt the way that we respond based on the virus."

Temple ISD will implement a tiered protocol model that will allow for changes if cases fluctuate. The protocol phases will be defined as: Standard, Enhanced and Closure.

The district is starting the 2022-2023 school year in the "Standard" protocol.

"Our standard protocol will just be our normal, being vigilant of our overall health and wellness, in general, moving forward," Parks explained. "I think we are probably as close to pre-pandemic times as we will get."

Temple ISD is asking staff, students and visitors to self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 and not enter campuses if showing symptoms.

The district will send weekly positive case notifications, but close contacts won't be required to quarantine per newer CDC guidelines.

As the district ended the school year, face coverings will be optional.

Parks says the virus is more manageable now but it's important to remember it still exists.

"This is one of those things where it is hard because it has been different in the level of focus has been different every year," she said. "But, we do want our families and our community to know that we are prepared and that we know that COVID-19 still exists. We are prepared to help mitigate the spread as we move forward into the school year."

You can read more about TISD's COVID-19 policies here.

Meanwhile, in Waco ISD COVID-19 protocols are similar to how the last school year ended.

Masks will not be required, but district officials are asking people to consider masking up after their five-day isolation period for at least five days.

As of now, Waco ISD has decided to only send alerts out if there are bundles of cases instead of an alert for every positive case.

"We're doing kind of contact tracing lite is what I'm calling it," said Rhiannon Settles, director of health services for Waco ISD. "If we notice multiple cases in a classroom, on a team, or club -- anything like that, clusters of cases, then we will do notifications for those."

Waco ISD is providing weekly vaccine opportunities to anyone in the community. They have Pfizer and Moderna available for anyone six months and older. They will post on their Facebook page where the vaccine clinics will be held.

Waco ISD will update its COVID-19 dashboard as needed. You can access that here.

During the peak of the pandemic, school districts were given COVID-19 tests to administer. Midway Independent School District's Superintendent told the school board Tuesday night tests won't be administered by the district in the 2022-2023 school year because the Texas Education Agency put up red tape.

"Just don't have ability to do that and we're not using the district resources to go out and buy more," Dr. George Kazanas said. "We're not a testing center -- I'm going to punt that now to the public health department, that's their job."

Dr. Kazanas told the school board they'll focus on overall health and wellness like the other districts.

"We can continue to treat it like a communicable disease that we have like the flu, other things that we have in following those protocols," he said. "So, no dashboard. We're not sending transparency letters back out about a positive case."

They're all rolling back on restrictions because of a better understanding of how to handle COVID-19.

"Don't want people to forget about it," Settles said. "It's still out there, it's still a risk, but it's manageable now."

6 News reached out to Belton ISD Tuesday about how they will be handling COVID-19 this school year. Here is the statement a spokeswoman sent:

"Belton ISD will remain in Scenario 1 of our COVID-19 Response Plan as we start the 2022-2023 school year. Students and staff are still expected to self-screen for symptoms. The main change in protocol that families should note is that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will only be excluded from school or work for five days from the positive test or start of symptoms. We will continue to notify close contacts but will not send campus or classroom notifications. Learn more at www.bisd.net/covid."

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