HOUSTON – There is mixed reaction from parents who are trying to decide whether to send their children back to campus when the 2020 fall semester returns. Is it safe? What are the Plan As and Plan Bs for exposure? There are no guarantees. In this phase one of dealing with the coronavirus and COVID-19, is it too soon to send students back to the classroom?
The Texas Education Agency announced this week comprehensive guidelines for students to return to school, prioritizing their health and safety while ensuring that students receive quality instruction, whether they choose to learn in a safe on-campus environment or remotely.
“Both as Commissioner and as a public-school parent, my number one priority is the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “That is why the guidance laid out today will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis. The state is and remains committed to providing a high-quality education to all Texas students, while ensuring the health and safety of students, teachers, staff, and families.”
Morath added that, despite what will be a challenging budget year, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and other legislative leaders are committed to fully funding in-class and remote instruction for every child in the upcoming school year. As a result, parents will have more choices than normal this year as they decide which school setting is best for their children, including:
- Daily on-campus learning will be available to all parents who would like their students to learn in school each day.
- In addition, all parents will have the option to choose remote learning for their children, initially, or at any point as the year progresses. Parents who choose remote instruction for their students may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period (e.g. 6 or 9 weeks), but will not have to make that commitment more than two weeks in advance, so they can make a decision based on the latest public health information.
- Health and safety procedures will be in place to support student and teacher safety.
- Some health procedures are mandated for every school in the state. For example, all students, teachers, staff, and visitors coming to campus must be screened before being allowed on campus. Consistent with the Governor’s most recent executive order, and assuming that order is still in place, masks will be required while in school buildings, with certain exceptions made, as noted in the order. Schools will also be required to follow any forthcoming executive orders issued by the Governor.
- Additional health procedures are recommended for every school that can reasonably implement those procedures.
- Districts have the option to establish a phased-in return to on-campus instruction for up to the first three weeks of the school year, to ensure all appropriate health and safety procedures are fully in place.
Some parents have mixed emotions about sending their students back to school. E. Henry is the mother of an 8th grader who attends a performing and visual arts magnet school in the Houston Independent School District. Her child plays instruments and is in advance placement courses, but Henry has underlying health conditions that puts her at greater risk if her daughter brings COVID-19 home to her. Henry doesn’t feel like it is safe, and feels her hands are tied.
“I’m not worried about my kid following the rules, I’m worrying about other kids not doing what they are supposed to do,” she said. “The advanced courses my child need can’t be learned online. And I called the TEA yesterday, guess where they were working from — HOME until the end of the year! They are protecting themselves but are not protecting my baby? None of this makes sense. They could have come up with more clear answers for us. And don’t even get me speaking about the bus HUB situation. Will the kids be socially distanced on the busses? And if a teacher gets sick, will all the students be quarantined for 14 days? What’s the plan if someone is exposed?”
In June, HISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan showed a CNN reporter around a Houston area elementary school, discussing the concerns and the safety measures that were being put in place.
“One of the biggest issues that we possibly will encounter, especially with elementary students, is ensuring that they keep their mask on if masks are required to be worn. Because you know, children, that’s hard. It’s hard for us as an adult,” Lathan said, adding an extra message for parents. “Allow us an opportunity to finalize our plan, to ensure students can be on the playground and be in the classroom, in the cafeteria and on our buses. Be patient with us.”
TEA says it’s providing school systems with resources to ensure a strong start. This includes:
- Reimbursement for extra COVID-19-related expenses incurred during the 2019-20 school year
- Tens of millions of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies provided to school systems at no cost to Texas schools
- Free online, TEKS-aligned learning tools to deliver remote instruction
- Teacher training provided at no cost to the school system; and Statewide efforts to help bridge the digital divide for students at home, along with other ongoing support.
For more information, please visit TEA’s Coronavirus website: https://tea.texas.gov/coronavirus.