KEENE, Texas — Rural and urban school districts in Texas may respond differently to the COVID-19 situation as classes resume this year. But the return of a popular school tradition in Keene ISD in Johnson County has at least one parent considering sending her children elsewhere.
The Keene ISD House Reveal Party is a tradition going on six years now. Due to COVID, it was pared down and modified last year.
But Thursday, in the Keene High School gymnasium, hundreds of students and their teachers danced, sang along with a local country music band and celebrated almost entirely mask-less and with no social distancing concerns.
The responses from parents on the Facebook Live feed of the event are 100% in support, with parents saying, "I love this, how cool, amazing, and sweet."
WFAA reached out to Keene ISD Superintendent Dr. Ricky Stephens after just one parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was troubled by what she felt was a lack of concern for COVID-19.
“Each individual independent school district has to make the calls that are best for them," Stephens told WFAA.
He said the district of approximately 1,100 students continues to operate with strict hygiene controls, that it follows Texas Education Agency guidelines for quarantining students or staff who might test positive, and that anyone can wear a mask if they choose to do so.
"At Keene ISD our students’ health is unbelievably important to us," Stephens said. "But we see their health as not only physical, but also as mental social and emotional."
"We feel like there is more of a threat sometimes to their emotional well-being and their mental well-being than necessarily to their physical health," Stephens said, of the encouraging boost the annual event gives to incoming students.
However, Dr. Mark Casanova of the Dallas County Medical Society called the video "mind-boggling" when he saw it for the first time.
"I have a 12-year-old daughter who is vaccinated. If I knew that she were going into that type of school environment I don't know what I would do," said Casanova.
Johnson County, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, has recorded 17,837 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 387 deaths, and has a full vaccination rate of 39.4.%
"It doesn't care if we're in a big city or rural community," Casanova said. "If we gather together in indoor spaces with close proximity with no masks, the delta variant will find a way to spread amongst individuals."
"Obviously, COVID is real. And people really do get sick," said Stephens, who said he received his COVID vaccination as soon as it was available.
The school continues to require students to bring refillable water bottles to school to use with touchless water fountains installed last year.
"The decision I make at Keene ISD may not be the decision they make in Dallas ISD. May not be the one they make in Sunnyvale. May not be the one they make next door Cleburne. But I am called to make the best decision for the overall health of the kids in Keene ISD, and I think we do a pretty good job of it," said Stephens.