AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Education Agency has announced COVID-19 safety guidelines for students returning to school for the upcoming school year. Those guidelines include masks for everyone inside schools and screenings.
According to the TEA, parents can choose remote learning for their children at any point in the 2020-21 school year. Parents who choose remote learning may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period (6 or 9 weeks), but will not have to commit more than two weeks in advance, allowing a decision to be made off the latest public health information.
At every school in the state, all students, teachers, staff and visitors will be screened before being allowed on campus. Also, masks will be required while inside school buildings
Each district will have the option to establish a phased-in return to on-campus instruction for up to the first three weeks of the school year in order to make sure all appropriate health and safety procedures are in place.
The TEA will provide schools with:
- Reimbursement for extra COVID-19-related expenses
- PPE supplies at no cost to schools
- Free online, TEKS-aligned learning tools to deliver remote instruction
- Teacher training
- Statewide efforts to help bridge the digital divide for students at home
Abbott's executive order requires face masks for people over 10 years old while in a commercial space or public buildings or when in an outdoor setting that does not allow for 6 feet of physical distancing.
The requirement for face masks at schools aligns with that order, including the exceptions outlined.
The TEA said it may be impractical to require face masks while participating in non-UIL athletic or other extracurricular activities. Schools can allow students to remove their face masks while exercising as long as they are 6-feet social distancing from others who are not wearing a face mask.
"When it is impractical for students to wear masks or face shields during those activities, schools must require students, teachers, staff, and visitors to wear masks or face shields when entering and exiting facilities and practice areas and when not actively engaging in those activities," the TEA said.
The guidance suggests keeping teachers and students spaced as far apart as possible and encourages opening windows to increase airflow in rooms.
Anyone on campus should be encouraged to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, the TEA says. And, after sneezing or coughing, people should be encouraged to wash their hands immediately.
The guidance also says campuses should be cleaned more frequently, and high-touch surfaces, including desks, door handles and school supplies, should be regularly disinfected.
Districts like Fort Worth, Frisco and Irving have allowed parents to commit their students to either fully online or in-person learning for the school year.
Districts can phase-in the return to in-person instruction for up to the first three weeks of the school year to ensure all appropriate health and safety procedures are in place, the TEA said in a statement.
The agency also encourages districts to have staggered starts to the school day so that students are in less close proximity to each other.
Schools should consider placing student desks 6-feet apart when possible. The guidelines also recommend giving students space to eat lunch at least 6 feet apart.
"In classrooms where students are regularly within six feet of one another, schools should plan for more frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizing and should consider whether increased airflow from the outdoors is possible," the TEA said.
"When feasible and appropriate (for example, in physical education classes as weather permits), it is preferable for students to gather outside, rather than inside, because of likely reduced risk of virus spread outdoors," the TEA said.
The TEA says students must attend 90% of the days that a course is offered. Parents can switch their children to online instruction, but school systems are allowed to limit these transitions to happen only at the end of a grading period, the TEA said.
The TEA says it will reimburse school districts for extra COVID-19-related expenses and will provide tens of millions of PPE equipment at no cost. The TEA will also give free online TEKS-aligned learning tools for remote instruction.
Teacher training on the agency guidelines will be provided at no cost to the school system.
There will also be statewide efforts from the TEA to bridge the digital divide for students at home.
The TEA also told parents and educators to expect to see some campuses close for brief periods during the upcoming school year.
Reaction to TEA guidelines
We've received the following reactions to the TEA guidelines that were sent out Tuesday.
Texas Pediatric Society:
The Texas Pediatric Society, the Texas Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, appreciates the commitment demonstrated by TEA, in collaboration with Governor Abbott’s Coronavirus Medical Advisory Team, to ensure in-person instruction is available to every child, while maintaining flexibility for parents to choose remote learning as an option. TPS will continue to review the TEA guideance and serve as a resource to the Agency and the Governor’s Office in keeping the health and well-being of Texas children a priority during this unprecedented pandemic.
Houston Independent School District response:
HISD has received the Texas Education Agency’s guidelines for students to return to school for the 2020-2021 school year safely. The district is assessing these guidelines and will announce its reopening plans on July 15.
Ft. Bend Independent School District response:
Fort Bend ISD continues to make plans for the reopening of our schools, and remains committed to implementing plans that protect our staff and students while providing a rigorous instructional program both face-to-face and online. Today’s announcement from the TEA is disappointing because the guidance, as written, does not provide local school districts with the flexibility to make decisions based on local data or community and staff values and expectations.
Specifically, the announcement that “on-campus instruction must be offered for all grades served by the campus every day for every student whose parents want them to access on-campus instruction” does not allow local school officials the ability to effectively address teacher well-being or space limitations due to necessary social distancing. In fact, the guidelines, as written, provide for a reduction in funding for school districts that might not be able to provide on-campus instruction every day or if students must be on a part-time schedule to limit the number students in a classroom at one time.
While it is our intent to provide daily face-to-face classroom learning for any student selecting that option, we cannot commit to such a plan until we survey teachers to determine their willingness and ability to return to face-to-face instruction. We will also pre-register all students later in July to obtain the number of students desiring either face-to-face or online learning. This information will inform decisions about how classrooms will be used at each school.
"Fort Bend ISD is considering many safeguards and precautions to mitigate the spread of illness within our schools,” said Fort Bend ISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Dupre. “We remain committed to following TEA guidance and the strategic plan set forth by our local Board of Trustees to provide an educational system that allows all students to reach their full potential – in any circumstance. Our teachers and campus staff are at the heart of everything we do, and we will not ask them to bear the risk and weight of any re-opening plan.”