Data provided to the Observer by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) shows a skyrocketing number of COVID-related school closures in the month of January, when 284 districts closed schools temporarily. To put that in perspective: That’s almost triple the number of closures that occurred in the preceding four months combined. The numbers aren’t exact, since districts don’t have to report the closures to the state, and the TEA doesn’t formally track them, the agency said. But they do appear to show a sharp rise in COVID-related school closures. “When you have more than 15, 20 percent of your staff out … you can’t operate. So you have to close for a few days until you get some of them back,” said Bill Tarleton, executive director of the Texas Rural Education Association (TREA). Tarleton estimated that up to one-quarter of TREA’s 380-member districts have had to temporarily shutter their doors due to the virus.