Should COVID-19 classroom numbers be released?


DALLAS (NewsNation) — For so many, school is already back in session while others are gearing up for the big return. At the forefront of many people’s minds is what depth of information the general public will have access to when it comes to coronavirus numbers in the classroom. And should the release of that information be required?

Angela Rabke a mother of three in San Antonio worries about withheld information. This semester, she is especially concerned about her youngest who is a special education student in his public school.

“If the way that we’re collecting data across the board is inconsistent, then no one can make an educated choice for their families,” said Rabke.

Her son and countless children will be getting used to a new normal at school with masks, socially-distanced classrooms and cafeterias bringing a new meaning to “lunch spread.” But when it comes to the coronavirus, Rabke says knowledge is power.

“I feel like it’d be useful for the state to know how many cases there are in the schools!” said Rabke.

As of now in many states, when a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, that information is only reported to local health authorities and those in close contact with the patient. However, there is no nationwide mandate or guidance on sending that data to state officials.

Superintendents everywhere will have to figure out best practices while they await orders.

“It’s not if we get a case that impacts a campus, it’s when we get a case,” said Abilene Superintendent Dr. David Young.

Dr. Scott Muri, the superintendent of Ector County ISD in Texas, said while there could be benefits to mass releasing statewide virus information from schools, he also warned that could get tricky.

“If a case does appear, there’s a lot of context,” Muri said. “Were the children wearing masks? How many students were in the room? What was the exposure of that teacher over the weekend, if you will. So a lot of questions, but it is interesting data that we’re tracking locally.”

Some parents like Rabke aren’t satisfied with the local restrictions.

“It’s their job to come up with policies that are keeping these students and these teachers safe,” she said. “It’s hard for our leaders to make choices that help everyone move this problem along if there’s not some good guidelines.”

The Texas Education Agency is asking for patience with those guidelines.

“The question on data collection is still under active deliberation by TEA, and we expect to have an update in the coming weeks on what, if any, data will be required and how it will be recorded,” said a TEA spokesperson.

Health departments in states like Michigan are also warning that, as of now, there is no obligation for families to hand over a child’s personal health information — similar to what they’ve experienced with contact tracing.

“They have a right to refuse, there’s no legal obligation for people to answer our questions. We’re not going to come after them if they don’t answer,” added epidemiologist Brian Hartl.

Health experts say there is a delicate balance between individual health privacy and the community’s desire to know vital pandemic information. Currently in many states, decisions on how to handle sensitive virus information are left to the districts.

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