Coronavirus pandemic

Bell County school districts are stressing to students and parents that their choices over Thanksgiving break have consequences for the remainder of the academic year.

Schools across the county are closed this week so students and staff can celebrate Thanksgiving. Classes resume Nov. 30.

Matt Smith, the Belton Independent School District superintendent, worried about the Thanksgiving break in the days leading up to it. He said parents and families need to try to follow public health officials’ guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I do know that it’s hard when we get outside of the school setting nobody wants to adhere to six feet, nobody wants to wear a mask all the time,” Smith said. “But the more we can actually partner together to continue to do some of these things, the more chance we’re going to have to keep kids face to face in instruction. We all know that’s the best place for kids to be right now.”

Temple ISD Superintendent Bobby Ott echoed his counterpart.

“I would suggest that our families and our students remain diligent with safety protocols,” he said.

Ott stressed how this expected high-level of diligence should not be limited to when students are on campus.

“We’ve been doing such a good job with case management that we really need to stick with what’s working … and that’s the diligence to safety protocols and not being careless,” the Temple schools leader said.

Amanda Robison-Chadwell, the Bell County Public Health District executive director, said the county recently reached coronavirus case levels that have not been seen since July — when Bell County saw its last peak. The county has more than 1,000 active cases, according to the health district.

“We have to be diligent with our safety precautions. We need our community to be partners in this,” Smith said. “We all know that the data in Bell County continues to go in the opposite direction of what we would like, and yet we also know our schools have done a good job of keeping kids safe and mitigating the spread of the coronavirus in our schools.”

Rogers ISD Superintendent Joe Craig made the tough decision to close campuses because of a coronavirus spike among students. He shuttered Rogers Middle and High School campuses in early November after surpassing a 2 percent threshold of active COVID-19 cases.

“If the kids would do the things we’re doing on campus outside of school, I don’t think we would be here,” Craig said at the time.

Craig previously told the Telegram that contract tracing shows most of the district’s cases are not spreading on campus and urged students to continue adhering to safety protocols.

Belton ISD, Smith said, is prepared to move between its COVID-19 scenarios — which range from increased cleaning and social distancing and hybrid approaches to going to remote learning — in case of a major spike.

“The more we can focus on those mitigation strategies, now the more we can have our parents partner with us on those strategies — the better chance we have of not having to go to those other scenarios,” the Belton ISD superintendent said.