LISD experiences spike in absences after winter break


Photo by Alexander Cha

An empty hallway at Hebron High School.

According to the LISD COVID case tracker, before winter break there were 46 new cases between Dec. 13-17, but from Jan. 17-21, the number of new cases per week shot up to 2,231, the highest it has been all school year. On Nov. 24, 2021, a new variant of the coronavirus was discovered in South Africa. Named the omicron variant, it made its way to the United States as well as the local area. As students returned from winter break, active COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in LISD. 

“I think it’s the new strain that we have,” nurse Cissy Khan said. “Some students that have already experienced [COVID-19] have already tested positive for this new variant. It’s almost a regular thing now. I think a lot of students are extremely weary.”

Hebron had a total of 117 active COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 24 with 81 from the main campus and 36 from the ninth grade campus. According to LISD COVID-19 Dashboard, students with active cases compose 2.76% and 3.60% of the campus populations, respectively. 

“At this point in the pandemic, the two or whatever years we’ve been doing this, we have a set procedure,” Khan said. “If you receive a positive test result, stay home and notify our call center.”

While quarantining may be inconvenient, the return to school after being out with COVID-19 poses another challenge. Extenuating the issue of those with COVID-19 having to stay home, documentation has to be done for those returning.

“There [are] six or seven steps that need to be taken when a return-to-school document is received,” said Khan. “We’ve received more than about 45 to 50 of those clients’ return to school or action plans. You can imagine the six or seven steps that need to be taken with each one, the analysis that needs to be done and the information that needs to be recorded.”

On Jan. 24, LISD announced that the district would be closed from Jan. 26-30 due to staff shortages. Interim superindent Gary Patterson said the number of absences in the district had become too great to fill staffing shortages.

“The positive cases reported by middle school and high school students over the last 10 days have increased by almost 500%,”  Patterson wrote in his Family Update on Jan. 24. “Absences for on-campus staff are running between seven to 800 daily, while district-wide staff absences have been over 900 and peaked at 1,048 last Friday.”

Omicron continues to spread throughout the community, and the closure is intended to help in preventing further spread of COVID-19. While it is unknown if the district will potentially extend the closure, school is planned to return as normal on Monday.

“We understand the impact this has on our more than 50,000 students and their families and our 6,500 staff, and we do not make this decision lightly,” Patterson wrote. “Some believe we should have closed the district earlier. Some believe we shouldn’t close schools at all. We know this is not a perfect solution, and certainly a measure we wish we didn’t have to take.”