A rural school district in Texas defied the experts and orders from its government masters when it came to face masks and social distancing in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of bowing to pressure, the district worked with parents to open schools in August without COVID restrictions or mandates — and by all accounts, the students are thriving.
Peaster Independent School District has had no distancing, no required face masks, and no mandatory quarantines since school started last August, KTVT-TV reported Monday. The students have had a "100% normal school experience" this school year – nothing has been canceled and no one has been quarantined.
"And the kids in Peaster, Texas, have thrived," Superintendent Lance Johnson told the outlet.
It all goes back to a decision last year that virtual schooling would not be successful for this community, KTVT said.
PISD surveyed families to see what they wanted for their kids and what they would be comfortable with. According to KTVT, 55% of parents said they would send their students to school if masks and social distancing were required for all grades. When the district asked about offering a school year as close to normal as possible, that number jumped to 86%.
And it appears to have paid off. The school year started on time in August, and nobody has looked back.
In the district of more than 1,400 students, only eight students are still learning online.
Daily attendance now is higher than it was a year ago.
There were only about a dozen more teacher absences in the fall over a year ago, but no cases of COVID-19 in the first 10 weeks of the school year among students or staff. Only a few COVID cases were recorded by the end of 2020 — and no cases have been recorded this year, KTVT said.
District data shows that most students in PISD will finish the year at grade level, the station noted, as the district has closed the learning gaps that were created when schools shut down in the spring.
How'd they do it?
According to Johnson, the teachers, school board, and community "stood in solidarity to ... do what is best for kids — and what's best for kids is having them in school in front of that teacher learning in a traditional school model."
Personal responsibility played a big part, Johnson said. Any students or teachers who felt ill stayed home, recovered, and came back when they were healthy.
It all comes down to doing their jobs, the superintendent said.
"It's real simple. We've just done it," he said. "It's not that difficult if you really put the needs of kids first."