Category Archives: Safety

TEA updates its COVID-19 resources to include case reporting instructions and educator wellness guidance

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced yesterday two new resources that educators and parents have been requesting: guidance on promoting educator well-being that actually emphasizes educator input and information about reporting on the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas public schools.

First, TEA has posted a guide promoting staff support and well-being in a COVID-19 environment, entitled “SY 20-21 Educator Wellness: Equipping Staff to Return to School.” The introductory paragraph of the new guide has this to say:

“Throughout this tool you will find practical guidance, suggestions, and key action steps for the topics addressed in the chart below to promote staff wellness, resiliency, and overall well-being. The first step in preparing for the reentry of staff is to plan. Campus leaders should convene a team of mental health and well-being champions. It is vital that this team is supported by the senior leadership team in a district, school, or open-enrollment charter school. This team should be charged with developing a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) plan using reputable resources that are trauma-informed for school mental and behavioral health, starting with a focus on promoting staff wellness. Next, assessing the well-being of staff is an essential step for prescriptive planning. After initiating the assessment and evaluating the results from the adaptable assessment options sample below, it will be important to build a school culture that promotes wellness and resiliency throughout the school year. Finally, equipping staff with the most relevant professional development and training will lead to a strong and safe start for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Of course, this guidance would have been more helpful six to eight weeks ago when districts still had ample time for planning and convening new committees, and when organizations such as ATPE were imploring the agency and state leaders to pay attention to the largely-ignored concerns of our state’s educators. Thankfully, the new guidance is pro-educator and finally recognizes that supporting students requires first supporting those adults who teach them. On that basis, this thoughtful guidance can be filed under the category of better late than never.

The agency is still working out final details on the public reporting of lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Texas public school students and staff. The new reporting requirement will be in addition to long-standing required reporting to local health agencies for infectious diseases. Through a joint effort between TEA and the state health agency, data will be reported out by the Department of State Health Services on at least a district-by-district basis. Districts are expected to start submitting data in early September, with a group of pilot districts beginning to submit data this week.

Other updates to TEA’s COVID-19 site since last Thursday include the following:

Congressional panel discusses school reopening, safety considerations

The U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education met Thursday morning, July 23, in Washington, DC, to discuss the safe reopening of public schools across the nation.

“All of us want our schools to reopen for full-time, in person instruction as soon as possible. That fact is not up for debate,” Subcommittee Chair Gregorio Sablan (I-Northern Mariana Islands) announced at the beginning of the hearing, explaining that the question is how to accomplish reopening safely for students and staff. “We are all coming to a new understanding of just how essential schools are to life in America.”

Sablan pointed out that nearly one in four teachers have health conditions that put them at serious risk if they contract COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has made it clear that fully reopening schools carries the highest risk of creating new spikes in COVID-19 infections. As we reported here on Teach the Vote last week, the White House blocked CDC officials from testifying at Thursday’s hearing.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, the average school district will need an additional $1.8 million to reopen. Sablan said the House has already approved this funding, and noted that the White House and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have threatened to strip funding from public schools that delay in-person instruction to protect the health of students and school employees. While the administration likely does not have the authority to withhold that funding, ranking subcommittee member Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA 12) used his opening statement to announce the filing of new legislation that would allow the president and secretary to carry out that threat.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was the first witness to testify. Hinojosa said that at the beginning of the pandemic, 30% of district parents surveyed preferred remote instruction, compared to 70% who preferred their children to learn on campus. That the number has since shifted to about 50/50, according to Hinojosa, and he believes now more than 50% of parents would prefer remote instruction for their child. According to the superintendent, DISD found that 91% of its teachers at the beginning of the pandemic reported they felt ready to return to classrooms, while he believes that number is 50/50 or less now.

Also, Hinojosa told the committee that Texas has used the federal funding from the CARES Act to supplant state funding for public education, rather than supplement funding. While acknowledging the state’s reason for doing so, Hinojosa cautioned that Texas will need additional funding in the coming years to provide for public education.

Up next, National Parent Teacher Association President Leslie Boggs said claims that children do not spread or get sick from COVID-19 are “simply untrue.” Boggs said the organization conducted a national survey of parents that found 72% believed schools were not prepared to reopen in a safe manner. Boggs reaffirmed the organization’s opposition to diverting tax dollars intended for public schools through private school vouchers and urged Congress to appropriate additional funding to help schools deal with the pandemic.

The committee also heard from Dr. Sean O’Leary, who co-wrote the much-cited document from the American Academy of Pediatrics that seemed to downplay the danger to children posed by COVID-19 and has been used to justify swiftly reopening schools across the board. O’Leary clarified that the document was not necessarily meant to encourage schools to resume in-person instruction arbitrarily, adding that the AAP believes not all schools can immediately reopen for in-person instruction five days a way. Dr. O’Leary also recommended Congress allocate $200 billion to help schools reopen.

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT 5), the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, pressed O’Leary on the need to regularly test students and staff. Hayes also asked Superintendent Hinojosa how he is dealing with school employees who are medically vulnerable. Hinojosa answered that Dallas ISD has asked staff to identify whether they are at high risk and pledged to work with them on an individual basis.

Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that virtual instruction is a poor substitute for in-person instruction and shared the goal of resuming in-person instruction as soon as possible. Democrats emphasized the need to do so safely for students and staff and to avoid prematurely returning to classrooms and triggering additional COVID-19 outbreaks. Republicans on the subcommittee downplayed the risk of COVID-19 to children and argued that all schools should offer parents the option to send their children to school immediately. Republicans on the committee also suggested many schools could resume normal activity without additional federal funding. The hearing took place one week after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos claimed in an interview that children are effective “stoppers” of the virus.

Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA 3) asked Dr. O’Leary about how to deal with a student who begins to show COVID-19 symptoms. O’Leary did not answer directly, emphasizing that proper social distancing and other precautions should reduce community spread. Chairman Scott pointed out that once a student becomes symptomatic, they have likely been unknowingly spreading the disease on campus for some time. O’Leary deferred to state and local leaders, but suggested that one case should not shut an entire school down. That said, O’Leary dismissed comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza.

“To minimize the risk of COVID-19, I think, is a mistake,” said O’Leary. In his answer to a question about reopening schools in COVID-19 hot spots, O’Leary warned, “It’s not safe. Students are going to get sick. Teachers are going to get sick. Staff is going to get sick. So that’s number one. Number two, it’s not practical. If you open schools when the virus is circulating widely in the community, it is inevitable that it’s going to get into those schools and you will just have to shut them down immediately.”

The Democrat-led House passed the Heroes Act in May, which would offer more than $100 billion in emergency funding for schools. The bill has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate for the past two months. The White House and Senate Republicans agreed this week to a plan for $105 billion in relief funding for K-12 and higher education that would carry out the administration’s threats to withhold funding from schools that deem it unsafe to reopen immediately for in-person instruction. The Republican proposal includes $70 billion for K-12 schools, however half of that funding would only be given to schools that reopen for in-person instruction. Those schools and the other schools that are unable to open for in-person instruction would share the remaining $35 billion.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on federal legislative developments pertaining to COVID-19.

ATPE releases plan with new recommendations for reopening schools

The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) released new recommendations Tuesday including a statewide plan to facilitate a safer start to the 2020-21 school year. ATPE submitted the plan to state officials with oversight of the public education system, including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, House Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The ATPE proposal urges the state to postpone in-person instruction until objective measures show local COVID-19 cases have declined to levels judged by public health officials to be safe for reopening. The plan focuses on three overarching principles informed by input we have received from ATPE members in recent months:

  1. Safety should be a foremost concern driving decisions on reopening schools.
  2. State and local school officials must involve educators and parents meaningfully in the development of COVID-19 policies.
  3. Flexibility is needed.

The decision on reopening schools for in-person instruction should ultimately be based on conditions indicating the impact of the virus in each school district, and ATPE is urging the state to adopt a framework comprising such conditions. Educators and parents must be involved in the development of plans to address COVID-19 in the 2020-21 school year, which is why ATPE has been recommending that each district assemble a local COVID-19 advisory committee that includes non-administrative campus-level staff, as well as parents and local health experts. Districts should also have the flexibility to offer a variety of remote and hybrid instructional models based on local needs and conditions. ATPE has also been meeting frequently with state and federal officials, reminding them that school districts also need additional financial support from the state and federal government to address the enormous challenges created by this pandemic.

As school districts mull plans for reopening their campuses, ATPE believes districts should be empowered to fine-tune those plans in consultation with their local COVID-19 advisory committee and only upon meeting objective criteria established by the state. ATPE has recommended to state officials, for illustrative purposes only, the following criteria that could be measured at the local level and used as a threshold for reopening schools:

  1. The local COVID-19 positivity rate, defined as the percentage of positive cases to viral tests conducted over seven days, is below a minimum threshold established by the state as informed by state health officials;
  2. Newly identified COVID-19 cases are on a downward trajectory (or near-zero incidence) over a 14-day period; and
  3. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are on a downward trajectory (or near-zero incidence) over a 14-day period.

The recommendations submitted by ATPE on Tuesday include a call to waive the administration of the STAAR and TELPAS for the 2020-21 school year. This was one of two resolutions related to COVID-19 that the ATPE House of Delegates wrote and adopted last week during the 2020 ATPE Summit. Both resolutions were referenced in ATPE’s updated recommendations shared today.

  • Read ATPE’s full plan and updated recommendations on school reopening here.
  • Read ATPE’s July 14 letter from Executive Director Shannon Holmes to state leaders here.
  • View ATPE’s July 14 press release about our new recommendations here.

ATPE expects more from state efforts to protect educators

Earlier this week, the Texas Education Agency released final public health guidelines for the return to in-person schooling in the fall. The guidelines were similar to the agency’s previously released “draft” public health guidance, with a few exceptions. ATPE’s statement on the guidance (see below) reflects our overall disappointment in the lack of clarity and specificity provided to educators who are concerned for their health and safety when returning to school.

TEA’s guidance prioritizes getting kids back in an in-person school setting without equal care for the educators who will stand alongside them in the classroom. Most educators would probably agree that students are experiencing setbacks due to the pandemic and that for some children, being away from the school environment means a lack of safety and stability amid a reported rise in child abuse. These are some of the reasons that would favor returning students to their campuses as soon as feasible, but it is equally important that educators and other school employees are able to work in a healthy and safe environment; otherwise the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning may suffer.

The TEA guidance document follows the same framework as what was in the agency’s initial health and safety guidelines draft and recommends designating an individual or group responsible for dealing with COVID-19 issues. ATPE’s Recommended Health and Safety Guidelines pressed the state to require districts to develop a more robust planning committee and COVID-19 policy approval process that includes educator and community input. Instead, the agency has opted to require districts to create a plan that is only posted for parent and public review one week in advance of the the school year and is not subject to school board approval, leaving it mostly to the discretion of superintendents.

One of the main differences in the new guidance document is that districts are granted flexibility in the form of a three-week back-to-school transition. During this time period, districts can require some students to engage in virtual or distance learning, if they have the internet and devices. Another big change in the new guidance versus the draft document is that, consistent with the governor’s recent mask order, schools must comply with face covering requirements. Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order includes exceptions, such as for those under age 10, those who have disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks, and other circumstances.

TEA has strengthened some of the language in the document to require districts to practice certain health and safety protocols, while continuing merely to suggest other practices. For example, educators and staff must self-screen, visitors must be screened, and parents must ensure that they are not sending their child to school with COVID-19 symptoms. Additionally, the new guidance says school systems must provide daily on-campus instruction for students who follow TEA’s public health guidance and whose parents want them to attend school in person.

Similar to the previous guidance, schools are encouraged to provide hand sanitizer, watch students wash their hands twice a day, and consider separating desks by six feet where possible, among many other health and hygiene suggestions. The guidance also suggests that schools reduce large assemblies and in-person staff meetings where possible.

Overall, the TEA guidance falls far short of what educators expect in terms of assurances that they will be safe when returning to work with students. ATPE will continue to work with education stakeholders and state leaders to gain better specificity for educators, as outlined in our recommendations, and to press for educators’ voices to be included in the decision-making process at all levels. Educators, and especially those who are cautious to return to school due to their age, pregnancy or nursing, health conditions, or the presence of vulnerable individuals in their household, deserve peace of mind and a seat at the table as we approach the fall.

Visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resource page for more information related to returning to school, including answers to such questions as whether your district can require you to get tested for COVID-19 or what might happen if you disagree with your district’s plan to reopen.


ATPE Statement on TEA’s Final Public Health Guidance
State’s largest educator association frustrated by TEA plan: “Too many questions are left unanswered by TEA’s guidelines.”

ATPE has reviewed the Texas Education Agency’s “SY 20-21 Public Health Planning Guidance” document posted on the agency’s website this afternoon.

Part of TEA’s “Strong Start” plan, the nine-page document lists minimal requirements and recommendations for school districts to consider as they prepare to start the new school year. While the final guidance contains a few more requirements than a draft leaked in mid-June, the responsibility for ensuring student and educator safety has been placed squarely on school administrators. Included in the new document are references to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order calling for masks to be worn in public, which will also apply to schools for as long as the statewide order remains in effect.

ATPE is frustrated that TEA has not heeded our call to provide more explicit guidance, nor is TEA requiring the involvement of educators and parents in developing COVID-19 protocols.

On July 2, ATPE released its own set of recommendations for state policies and district-level guidelines related to COVID-19. We urge school district leaders to follow ATPE’s recommendations as they work to fill in the gaps. Our recommendations would require each district to develop a COVID-19 advisory committee including non-administrative-level staff, parents, and community medical experts.

“Too many questions are left unanswered in TEA’s guidelines,” said Shannon Holmes, ATPE Executive Director. “We urge school district leaders to step in and fill this leadership vacuum to keep Texas children and educators safe, particularly as pockets of our state face rising COVID-19 outbreaks. All Texas students, parents, and educators deserve to be safe and have a firm understanding of the steps being taken to provide a safe learning environment.”

Read ATPE’s Recommendations for District-Level Guidelines.

BREAKING: TEA posts updated public health guidance for school reopening

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released a new Public Health Planning Guidance document for the 2020-21 school year. While ATPE is still analyzing the guidance, it appears fairly similar to the previously released “draft” public health guidance, which was seemingly posted by mistake last month on the agency’s website.

Notably, TEA’s press release on the guidance released today states that all students, teachers, staff, and visitors coming to campus must be screened before being allowed on campus. Additionally, Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide mask order will require that masks are worn while in school buildings, with certain exceptions as outlined in the governor’s order. However, it is clear that TEA’s nine-page guidance issued today, much like its “draft” predecessor, continues to place most responsibility on local school districts for coming up with their own plans for dealing with COVID-19.

As previously reported, ATPE has released Recommended Health and Safety Guidelines for a return to school and factors that local and state decision-makers should consider. Read a press statement from ATPE about the July 7 guidance document released by TEA.

Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for more detailed analysis on the public health guidance coming soon from ATPE’s lobbyists, and visit ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for other news and updates.

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

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
June 23, 2020

Students gather in an auditorium before class. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Texas education officials are envisioning a largely hands-off approach to helping school districts bring students back to campus this fall, imposing few mandatory safety precautions but recommending staff and students wear masks, hand sanitize regularly and stay six feet away from each other, according to draft documents found on the Texas Education Agency’s website Tuesday.

“Consistently implementing recommendations to the extent feasible is the best way to reduce the potential negative impact of infection on students’ educational experiences,” the draft document reads.

The light-handed oversight role parallels the state’s overall approach to the coronavirus pandemic under Gov. Greg Abbott, with local officials, parents and students expected to devise their own strategies for protecting their health.

Abbott told state lawmakers last week that schools would open for in-person instruction in the fall, but gave few details. State education officials are expected to detail their approach for the upcoming academic year in a briefing with superintendents Tuesday afternoon.

Separate draft attendance guidelines found on the TEA’s website Tuesday said school districts will be required to offer on-campus instruction for students who want to return to schools, but the state will also count students taking virtual classes in the attendance figures use to determine state funding. Districts can choose to provide live virtual instruction or instruction that is not delivered in real time, including prerecorded video lessons or paper assignments.

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.

Many of the public health guidelines in the TEA’s draft document are suggestions and not mandates for how school districts can keep communities safe during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the draft, Texas will require school districts to publicly post a summary of their plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19, based on the guidance, though the plans are not subject to government approval. And school districts are required to separate students who show COVID-19 symptoms at school until they can be picked up by a guardian, and clean the areas used by anyone potentially infected.

Reopening schools is a large part of Abbott’s plan to jumpstart the economy, as Texans returning to their workplaces seek safe places to leave their children. But since Abbott first allowed businesses to reopen, the number of new cases and Texans hospitalized have reached record heights.

Abbott has urged Texans to wear masks and stay socially distanced, but has declined to issue a statewide requirement or shut businesses down again. He told lawmakers last week that masks and testing would not be required in schools in the fall.

According to the draft guidance, school districts should require staff and students to “self-screen” for COVID-19 symptoms, including taking their own temperatures, before coming to school each day. And school leaders should ask students at the beginning of each week whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who tested positive.

“Regularly performing a forehead temperature check of otherwise asymptomatic students in school is not recommended, but the practice is also not prohibited by this guidance,” the draft document states.

Some school districts, especially larger ones in urban and suburban Texas, have already decided to offer “hybrid” programs, teaching some students in person and some remotely.

The draft document said Texas would continue to fund school districts serving students remotely. School districts providing live virtual instruction to students must track how many students are engaged each day, and will not receive funding for students who do not participate remotely.

According to the draft document, those that choose to offer remote instruction through worksheets and prerecorded videos must first get state approval of their instructional plans. They must track students’ daily progress through their interactions with their teachers or completion of assignments. Districts can also choose to offer a combination of both types of remote instruction, to meet more students’ needs.

This year, school districts scrambled to get computers and hotspots out to the students who needed it most and lost track of thousands of students, including the most vulnerable. Texas required districts to sign a form saying they were providing remote instruction in order to continue receiving funding — much less stringent than the plan in the draft guidance.

Reference

Draft public health guidelines from the Texas Education Agency.

Reference

Draft attendance and enrollment guidelines from the Texas Education Agency.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/06/23/texas-planning-few-mandatory-safety-measures-when-schools-reopen-draft/.

Governor acknowledges COVID-19 surge, but no new mandates

Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged that cases of COVID-19 are surging in Texas, but did not issue any new executive orders or require any additional action be taken to decrease the spread. The governor and his top healthcare advisors held an afternoon press conference Monday at the Texas Capitol, all donning masks while not speaking.

The governor repeatedly encouraged Texans to wear masks, which have been proven to slow the spread of the deadly disease. While acknowledging that some people view wearing a mask as infringing on their personal freedom, Abbott at the same time stressed that wearing masks is crucial to fully reopening businesses and to preventing deaths. Yet the governor again stopped short of making masks mandatory, instead suggesting individual communities could determine whether to require masks based on local needs. Gov. Abbott said today that because of the differentiation in the impact of COVID-19 from county to county, there must be “a level of flexibility.” The governor only recently allowed cities and counties to issue their own orders about the requirements for wearing masks in certain public places, marking a reversal from his previous warnings not to restrict individuals’ choices not to wear a mask.

Gov. Abbott did not announce any additional restrictions on businesses or social gatherings Monday, only cautioning that future action may need to be taken if Texans do not behave responsibly by continuing to wear masks, wash their hands, practice social distancing, and stay home if they’re sick. Regarding the upcoming elections, early voting for which starts next week, the governor suggested voters adhere to the same safety guidelines.

During today’s press conference, Gov. Abbott did not address plans to reopen schools in August with in-person instruction, on which the governor spoke and we wrote last week. The Dallas Morning News published an editorial Monday calling on schools to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and clear safety guidelines to keep students and teachers safe. Both the governor and the commissioner of education have said that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will provide additional information about the return to school and related guidelines this week, most likely tomorrow. ATPE has been updating our Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for educators as we receive additional information from state officials, and we’ll continue to post updates here about any new developments.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 19, 2020

Today is Juneteenth, the day that notice of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves finally reached Texas (two and a half years later). Celebrations like Juneteenth help educate future generation about our shared past and are a perfect way to continue conversations and action about the current issues facing our nation. For what happened in education this week, read the update below from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Yesterday, Gov. Greg Abbott made a surprise announcement during a call to lawmakers that he intends for Texas schools to reopen for in-person classes in the fall, with flexibility offered for those who have health concerns. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) confirmed the plan in a brief statement, promising that more information will be forthcoming next week.

As reported by the Texas Tribune, TEA has said that the state will not require districts to mandate that students wear masks or be tested for COVID-19 symptoms. However, TEA has also said that the state plans to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to districts. Overall, the ambiguity in both the governor’s and TEA’s messaging and the delay in providing additional guidance to school districts have spurred confusion and anxiety among educators, who fear for the health and safety of students in addition to their own personal safety, as shown by a recent ATPE survey.

In response to the state officials’ remarks yesterday, ATPE released a statement that highlights our commitment to fighting for safe learning environments and our members’ respect for local control, allowing decision-making by locally elected school boards with the input of their local educators and community. We know that school districts around the state are working to make informed decisions about when and how to start the new school year, including deciding on necessary safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even without state-level orders on wearing masks, for example, some districts have already indicated that they will require their students and staff to wear masks when school resumes. Other safety measures being implemented by some districts include temperature checks, limiting classroom occupancy, staggering the days that students and staff are on the campus, and providing for distance learning options. To make these difficult decisions at the local level, school districts need additional support and comprehensive guidance from the state, and ATPE is urging TEA to provide this information as soon as possible.

In the meantime, ATPE has updated our Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page to address new questions about the developments this week. We will provide updated information as soon as TEA shares additional guidance to school districts next week.


Here’s more on the recent ATPE survey of educators about COVID-19. More than 4,200 educators and other school employees answered our poll on how COVID-19 has impacted education. No surprises here, educators responding to the survey cited student health and safety as their top concern, even more so than their own health and safety. Read this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a full rundown.


The U.S. Department of Education has shared information about Texas’ plans for using federal COVID-19 relief funds for education. The newly posted certification and agreement documents are part of the state’s applications for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds included in the CARES Act.

According to the application, the K-12 portion of the $29.2 million in Texas GEER funds will be used as follows:

  • to support remote learning for all students, including ensuring connectivity (Operation Connectivity);
  • to create a comprehensive set of online instructional materials, which we presume will be hosted on the existing TexasHomeLearning.com website operated by the Texas Education Agency (TEA); and
  • to provide a virtual dyslexia intervention service.

Of the $1.28 billion in ESSER funds going to Texas, TEA plans to reserve 9.5%, the maximum amount allowed under the law, to use for discretionary projects, which are mostly focused on supporting remote and online learning. The agency plans to implement the following:

  • an online summer bridge program to assist graduating seniors;
  • a support and monitoring program for districts that are adapting to remote learning settings;
  • a “turnkey” remote instructional support and content delivery service (likely what TexasHomeLearning.com will become);
  • a program in which select districts redesign their models for online learning;
  • mental and behavioral supports; and
  • a remote dyslexia instruction platform.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated its coronavirus-related web resources this week. TEA’s closure support and guidance page includes updates on allotments for personal protective equipment. The general support page features new FAQs for school boards and charter schools. The Texas Home Learning resources have been updated on the instructional continuity page, which also includes new information about changing school start dates. New federal funding and CARES Act reimbursement information is on the waivers, finance, and grants page. Lastly, the agency has posted new information on its assessment page related to the optional extended online testing windows for the 2020-21 school year.

Check out ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for the latest information on COVID-19 issues facing educators.

ATPE responds to plans for in-person instruction this fall

The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) responded Thursday to news that Gov. Greg Abbott plans for Texas schools to resume in-person instruction when the 2020-21 school year begins this fall. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) confirmed the plans and is expected to provide more detail next Tuesday. The news comes as a new ATPE poll shows health and safety for students and staff are the top concerns of educators when it comes to the upcoming school year.

According to the Texas Tribune, Gov. Abbott informed state legislators on a conference call Thursday morning, June 18, of the plans for in-person instruction this fall, even as hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Texas hit record highs for a week straight. TEA confirmed the plans for in-person instruction with a brief statement from the commissioner claiming that “it will be safe” to return to campus this fall and that “flexibility” will be provided to those with health concerns.

In response to the news, ATPE released a press statement today, noting the association’s support for keeping school environments safe and empowering school districts to make decisions about the return to school that reflect the leadership of their elected school boards and local community input. The association also hopes local officials will consider the impact of the pandemic in their area and the recommendations of medical experts in crafting their return-to-school plans, but additional guidance from the state will be necessary.

State officials have indicated that they will not require school districts to mandate that students wear masks or be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, but districts are likely to adopt their own protocols that may vary locally. TEA has allocated funding to districts for personal protective equipment (PPE), posting a spreadsheet to show the allocation planned for each district.

In ATPE’s recent survey of more than 4,200 Texas educators about their views on returning to campus during the pandemic, more than 63% of respondents named the health and safety of students as their top concern. Sixty percent of respondents listed their personal health and safety, and more than 45% reported concern about student learning gaps and learning loss. Read more about ATPE’s survey here. Following the news of the governor’s intentions today, numerous ATPE members reached out to us sharing similar concerns about health and safety.

The commissioner is expected to offer more details on the agency’s guidance for districts on reopening and school funding on Tuesday. ATPE is also awaiting more detail on allowances for students and staff who may not be able to return to school in person due to health considerations and associated funding concerns. As additional guidance is released by the state, ATPE will report on any new developments here on Teach the Vote and will continue to update our Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for educators.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas students will return to school campuses this fall, Gov. Greg Abbott tells lawmakers

Cactus Elementary School in Cactus on Jan. 28, 2020. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Texas students will be returning to public schools in person this fall, Gov. Greg Abbott told state lawmakers Thursday morning.

The state’s top education officials confirmed the plans in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

“It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall. But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

When students return, school districts will not be required to mandate students wear masks or test them for COVID-19 symptoms, said Frank Ward, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency.

The TEA is expected to release additional guidance for school districts next Tuesday. Abbott has long said his intention is for students to return in-person this fall, saying this week that there will “definitely be higher safety standards in place than when they opened last year.”

“I will tell you that my goal is to see students back in classrooms in seats interacting personally with teachers as well as other students,” he told KLBK TV in Lubbock on Monday. “This is a very important environmental setting for both the students, for the teachers and for the parents.”

Abbott has pressed forward with reopening businesses and other public spaces for weeks, even as the number of new cases and people hospitalized with the virus has continued to rise. Democrats and officials in some of the state’s biggest cities have raised alarm about the pace, saying it’s putting people’s health at risk.

“Abbott’s failed leadership has cost lives and has led to Texas becoming one of the most dangerous states to live in during this pandemic,” said Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Abhi Rahman in a statement Thursday.

According to state lawmakers on the 11 a.m. call, school districts will be able to also offer instructional alternatives for students. The decision comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise statewide, and local officials begin to put firmer restrictions in place to tamp down the spread in their cities and counties.

National surveys have shown many parents do not feel safe sending their students back to the classrooms, with one poll showing two-thirds in support of keeping schools closed until the pandemic’s health risk has passed.

School districts’ surveys of parents are showing that many students will stay home, even when the classrooms are open. That could pose a financial risk to districts, which receive state funding based on student attendance. Already, many districts are planning for hybrid programs, with some students learning virtually and some learning in person, allowing them to keep class sizes small.

This year, Texas used federal stimulus dollars to fund school districts through this year’s mandated school closures, as long as they offered some type of remote education. But state officials have not yet said whether they will continue to fund them for students who do not show up in person in the fall.

With budget deadlines approaching at the end of the month, some districts are making tentative plans without clear state guidance. Fort Bend Independent School District announced earlier this week that its elementary and middle school students will return to their classrooms with adjusted schedules in the fall.

District officials are working to develop a plan for older students that combines virtual classes and classroom instruction. Online instruction will be an option for any student who doesn’t feel safe returning to the classroom in mid-August.

Cassandra Pollock and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/06/18/texas-schools-reopening-fall/.