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Texas Education Agency releases new guidelines for attendance, remote learning, personal protective equipment

Final TEA documents show schools districts will receive masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer, but it's up to the district to distribute them.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Education Agency released new guidelines on Tuesday afternoon for reopening schools this fall. Final documents show the TEA will be giving out personal equipment for in-school learning this fall. They also give guidance on two different types of virtual learning. 

The TEA won't require districts to make educators or students wear masks or do temperature checks, but the agency will provide equipment. The TEA plans to distribute more than 50 million disposable masks, 600,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and more than 40,0000 thermometers to Texas school districts.

In the document, the TEA states: "This PPE is being distributed to schools as a resource, but usage is not required."

The equipment will be distributed depending on school district size.

The TEA said students won't have to return to classrooms and guidelines show parents will have the choice of how their kids will learn. They said after campuses reopen they will count students taking virtual classes in the attendance figures used to determine state funding. The state will not penalize school districts for major decreases in student attendance for the first 12 weeks of the year. 

The documents show two different types of instruction – remote synchronous instruction and remote asynchronous instruction. These will be the two methods of calculating attendance for virtual learning next year.

The TEA defines remote synchronous as, "Two-way, real-time/live, virtual instruction between teachers and students when students are not on campus. In this method, the required amount of instructional time is scheduled each day, and funding is generated when attendance is recorded daily at a locally selected snapshot time. Synchronous instruction is provided through a computer or other electronic device or over the phone."

Remote asynchronous is defined as, "Instruction that does not require having the instructor and student engaged at the same time. In this method, students learn from instruction that is not necessarily being delivered in-person or in real time. This type of instruction may include various forms of digital and online learning, such as prerecorded video lessons or game-based learning tasks that students complete on their own, and pre-assigned work and formative assessments made available to students on paper."

A student is marked absent if they don't show up for their scheduled course or how long they're engaged and participating. State funding is typically based on classroom attendance, and many districts feared they might see dramatic drops in state money with parents saying they will not feel comfortable sending their children to school in-person, especially as cases continue to rise in Texas. 

Schools have to document daily progress with completion of assignments or teacher-student interactions. The TEA will be updating attendance requirements to ensure schools get credit for virtual learners and those students can be moved to the next grade. 

In the TEA's "Preparing for Remote Instruction" document, it said "the COVID slide is real," especially from low-income families, but not necessarily for those from high incomes. It said it "must ensure that remote instruction is delivered as effectively as we possibly can, for all of our students."

In a graph, the agency said in the U.S., as of May 24, 2020, students from low-income ZIP codes decreased progress in online math coursework by 55.6% compared to January 2020. The TEA said it cannot allow this public health crisis to become a generational education crisis.

Earlier on Tuesday, draft documents were release showing a detailed description of the Texas Education Agency's plan for the fall, but a spokesman said those were posted on its website accidentally. 

The TEA spokesman said:

"Regarding agency guidance, if you saw TEA documents circulating before 3 p.m. today titled ‘SY 20-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ,’ and/or ‘SY 20-21 Public Health Guidance Per Executive Order No. GA-26,’ those were draft documents. They were posted in the staging portion of the TEA website by mistake as part of an internal document review. A final version of the ‘SY 20-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ,’ was publicly released by TEA at 3 p.m. As we continue to closely monitor the public health situation, we are, in fact, still soliciting feedback on the Public Health Guidance. Additional guidance will be provided soon. We will continue to prioritize public health and safety above all else."

Those draft documents, reported by The Texas Tribune, showed agency officials recommend staff and students to wear masks, hand sanitize regularly and social distance, but it's not mandatory.

RELATED: Draft documents show Texas planning few mandatory safety measures when public schools reopen in fall

According to the draft guidance, school districts can also make it mandatory for staff and students to self-screen for coronavirus symptoms before going to school. The guidelines suggest school leaders should ask students at the beginning of each week whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they've had contact with someone who tested positive.

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