Texas teachers union launches COVID-19 website to track cases in schools

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas American Federation of Teachers launched a new website to track COVID-19 cases, deaths and unsafe working conditions in Texas schools.

The tracker, developed in a partnership between Texas AFT and national nonprofit United for Respect, will crowdsource teachers, school employees and community members to report key COVID-19 data.

“This is going to allow for direct interaction from, by and with, our teachers, our support staff, our employees, our parents and others, that they will be able to interact directly with this and take some level of control for helping to keep up with the identified cases across their campuses and across their communities,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said.

Users will be able to search by district and campus and see reports on a map of Texas, which will be updated within a three-hour span, Capo said.

Submitters will be required to certify that the details they’re submitting are correct, and a team on the back-end will work to validate an entry before it is published, Capo said. This helps to verify duplicate entries relating to the same case are not published.

“We’re looking for actual data, actual information to back that up and it could be could be a news article that came through that maybe we’ve missed it could be a letter that they’ve received from HR, or their principal, that is notifying them that there was a positive case on their particular campus,” Capo said.

People who submit information can remain anonymous, but can select to be contacted by Texas AFT staff for follow up questions related to the entry.

“We hope that this tool will help us identify those areas of concern identify those schools quickly and early and at the lowest level,” Capo said.

The website launched Thursday morning, and can be found at StopTheSpreadTX.school.

The United for Respect team is also behind a COVID-19 tracking tool for employees of Walmart and Amazon distribution warehouses nationwide, according to the non-profit’s chief technology officer Catherine Huang.

The information for Texas schools can be sorted by school district or campus name. Reports are filtered by deaths, cases, safety and story.

“And that’s really for us to be able to understand what people’s experiences are working during a pandemic,” Huang said.

The Texas Education Agency and Texas Department of State Health Services officially announced the creation of a state-run COVID-19 case-tracking system for public schools last month, with a commitment to “publicly report data on COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in schools starting in September.”

“We expect for the first report of COVID-19 cases in schools will be posted by the end of next week,” Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson Lara Anton stated in a Thursday email. “The data will be reported statewide and by school district.”

It is unclear how that data will be publicly displayed on the state-run site.

School districts that already started had until September 8 to submit their case information to the state, TEA spokesperson Jacob Kobersky said. Districts will begin submitting new information through a state portal this week. Next week, the statewide aggregate data will be available and the data breakdown by district will be available the following week, Kobersky said.

The agency has indicated that the state-run tracker for COVID-19 cases in in schools are more of a historical repository. The data will be updated weekly, so up-to-date information would likely come from other sources, like the districts themselves or local public health authorities.

Abilene ISD’s Superintendent Dr. David Young said he hopes the compiled data will help inform trends that he can apply to his schools in the Big Country.

“As state level data comes out, I’d like to see that and maybe see some trends that can inform my practice,” Young said.

“I’m hopeful that something useful comes out of it,” Young said, adding that he was unaware of the Texas AFT tracker before its launch.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep this airplane that we’ve built while flying it functioning at this point,” Young said.

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