Tag Archives: coronavirus

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 23, 2020

Here are this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


The governor has decided to use federal coronavirus relief funds to create a new voucher program for students with disabilities. On Oct. 21, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program, which uses CARES Act money to fund accounts for parents of students with special needs to buy education-related goods and services. The $1,500 accounts are strikingly similar to “education savings account” voucher proposals for students with special needs previously rejected by the Texas legislature. Abbott will use $30 million in taxpayer dollars in his Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund for the program.

ATPE swiftly expressed concerns over the SSES program. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes said, “ATPE is extremely disappointed the governor has made the unilateral decision to spend our state’s GEER funds in such a manner. Not only does this action ignore the Legislature’s clear opposition to vouchers, but also it denies public schools access to this $30 million allocation. Public schools are better positioned to equitably and efficiently provide for the needs of all students with disabilities.” Read ATPE’s full press statement here and ATPE’s blog post on the development here.


ELECTION UPDATE: There is one more week of early voting in Texas, through Oct. 30. Already, Texans have set a record for voter turnout. Election Day is just 11 days away on Nov. 3. This week the Texas Supreme Court ruled against the Texas GOP in a lawsuit, deciding Harris County can continue using drive-thru voting locations. Read other election news, including polls and candidate fundraising analyses, in this week’s Texas election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

We celebrated Educator Voting Day Monday and enjoyed seeing the many educators who posted their “I Voted” selfies on social media. Let us know why voting is important to you by sharing your own photo or video on social media using #WhyIVoteTXEd and tag @OfficialATPE and @Teach the Vote. Find additional voting tips here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard shows an increase in the number of positive cases reported last week for both students and staff. Districts update their submissions as they are informed of positive test results, causing data delays. The updated data show that between the weeks ending in Oct. 4 and Oct. 11, the number of positive cases rose by 31.7% among students and 37.7% among staff. Positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities.

As parts of the state deal with alarmingly high case counts and hospitalization rates due to COVID-19, some school districts are asking state officials for additional flexibility on when they must resume in-person instruction. ATPE has recommended and continues to emphasize the importance of using objective health-related criteria to guide local decisions on reopening school facilities rather than a one-size-fits-all approach or arbitrary timelines. Weighing the input of school employees and parents of students is also essential in the decision-making process.

As reported this week by the Texas Tribune, some Texas teachers been asked to return to school even though they had a previously approved accommodation. Find information related to this situation and more on ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources. Here are additional ATPE resources:

  • Learn how to manage pandemic anxiety in this ATPE-hosted webinar by therapist Kathryn Gates.
  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use ATPE’s Advocacy Central website, exclusively for our members, to share your coronavirus-related concerns with state officials, including the governor and commissioner of education.
  • Check out our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring a video on helping kids thrive in today’s world.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our interactive timeline.

When the coronavirus forced schools to close their doors this spring, state and federal officials wisely called off plans for the administration of standardized tests and school accountability ratings tied to test results. ATPE has been lobbying for a waiver of testing and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year. The ATPE House of Delegates adopted a resolution in July calling for STAAR and TELPAS testing to be suspended due to educational disruptions caused by COVID-19. This week, school board members in the Austin-area Eanes ISD passed a resolution of their own calling for Gov. Abbott and TEA to suspend the STAAR this year. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to CBS Austin Thursday about the difficulty of administering standardized tests in a non-standardized environment. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins also spoke today to KXAN News about the growing calls for a testing waiver.


 

Texas election roundup: Less than two weeks remaining!

There are less than two weeks, and only one weekend, remaining to vote in the 2020 elections, and the clock is ticking! Early voting continues through Friday, October 30, with Election Day on November 3.


The presidential candidates wrapped up their second and final debate of the campaign season last night in Nashville, Tennessee. The final debate had been rescheduled by the Commission on Presidential Debates after an earlier townhall-style event was canceled when the president contracted COVID-19. Now the campaigns will go their separate ways for the remainder of the election. A new Quinnipiac University poll this week showed Donald Trump and Joe Biden tied at 47% each among likely Texas voters. A rolling average of recent polls tracked by RealClearPolitics shows Trump with a 4% advantage in Texas.


The Texas Tribune reports that 5.9 million Texans have voted early as of October 21, or about 34.7% of registered voters. Of those, 4.3% submitted their ballots by mail. According to early voting statistics compiled by Republican consultant Derek Ryan, 32.1% of early voters last voted in a Republican primary, compared to 29.0% who last voted in a Democratic primary. Another 26.3% have voted in a general election but have no primary election voting history, and 12.7% of the early voters have no history of voting in any election before now.

The Texas Supreme Court continued to release election-related decisions this week. The state’s highest court ruled in favor of Harris County on Thursday and tossed out a challenge by the Republican Party of Texas to block drive-through voting in the state’s largest county. This means voters in Harris County can continue to visit one of 10 drive-through voting locations set up by the county to allow voters fearing COVID-19 to cast ballots from the safety of their automobiles.


In the race for U.S. Senate here in Texas, Democratic candidate MJ Hegar reported raising three times as much as incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the first half of October, $3.7 million to $1.3 million. Hegar also ended with more money in the bank, $6.9 million to $3.8 million. Both candidates spent around the same amount, with Cornyn spending $5.6 million and Hegar spending $5.3 million. This week’s Quinnipiac poll shows Cornyn with a 6% advantage over Hegar, 49% to 43%.


Speaking of polls, Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey points out in this handy video how polls have their strengths and weaknesses. Many polls in 2016 inaccurately predicted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election. Polls are based on estimates of what the electorate will look like, and predicting that is part art and part science. Polls are generally quite accurate, but unexpected changes in the electorate can throw off a poll’s results. Pollsters have therefore spent the years since 2016 trying to develop better models of the electorate, especially at the state level. A poll is also a snapshot of a single moment in time, which is why you see margins shift over the course of an election cycle. The best way to consume polling information is to look at an average of recent polls.

The first two weeks of early voting have already set records, and there is still a full week of early voting left! If you haven’t voted yet, go to the candidates section here at Teach the Vote and research the races based on your address. Then make your plan to go vote with the aid of this handy guide. Your vote is the single most impactful tool you have to ensure our schools are safe, healthy, and well-funded. Now get out there and exercise it!

Abbott, TEA launch voucher program for students with disabilities

On Oct. 21, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a new funding program for students with disabilities that is strikingly similar to previous voucher-like privatization proposals, including “education savings accounts” or ESAs, that have been consistently rejected by Texas lawmakers. The program will enable parents of students with special needs to apply for $1,500 grants for supplemental educational services.

  • The Supplemental Special Education Services program will be funded with $30 million in federal coronavirus relief funding appropriated by Congress through the CARES Act earlier this year.
  • The funds are part of a $307 million federal grant via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, over which Gov. Greg Abbott has authority with little to no state legislative oversight required.
  • ATPE is criticizing the voucher plan, arguing the COVID-19 relief funds should instead flow more equitably to school districts that already have an obligation under federal law to provide for educational needs, including paying for supplemental services, of students with disabilities.

The new Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program is funded by a $30 million allocation from Abbott’s $307 million GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) fund, which was authorized by Congress through the CARES Act, is administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and is funded with taxpayer dollars. GEER funds can be used on emergency support for K-12 and higher education, as well as support for any other education-related entity in the state the governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students.

As we reported here on Teach the Vote in April, the federal GEER funds were designed to be “highly flexible,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has been a vocal proponent of federally funded vouchers. The streamlined, 15-page application for the GEER funds was essentially an “agree-sign-submit” format with a short questionnaire on how the state intended to use the funds. No public comment period or state legislative oversight was required. In the certification and agreement that Abbott’s office sent to the Education Department earlier this year, there is no mention of using the GEER funds for vouchers. The state plan instead refers to the most notable GEER fund K-12 expenditures, the Texas Home Learning and Operation Connectivity initiatives.

According to a TEA FAQ document on the new program, the SSES will offer $1,500 in an online account for each eligible student through which “goods and services” can be ordered using the money. Eligible students must have been enrolled in public school since the COVID-19 school closures and have a low-incidence disability. The allowable goods and services include private tutoring, educationally related services and therapies from a licensed or accredited provider, textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials, and computer hardware, software, or other technological devices that are used for educational needs. TEA will approve vendors for the online voucher account. Approximately 20,000 students could be served through the $30 million allocation at $1,500 each, though the agency says 59,000 students in Texas are eligible. On its website today, TEA noted that details on how the accounts will work are “coming soon.”

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) already provides school districts with federal funds to fulfill students’ educational needs under the requirement of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). There is no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted education, especially for students with disabilities. However, it is essential that districts receive adequate resources, such as money for extra staffing and personal protective equipment, to fulfill their responsibility under IDEA for all students with disabilities to provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

Historically, Texas does not have the best track record for meeting its obligation to adequately fund the state’s special education needs; state officials were forced to implement a corrective action plan after 2016 investigations revealed an arbitrary cap on special education program enrollment had resulted in many students being denied the help they needed and were entitled to by law. However, lawmakers, education stakeholders, and the voting public have expressed little appetite for privatization initiatives, even when ostensibly aimed at helping students with special needs.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature, and principally the House of Representatives, rejected Senate Bill 3 (85R), a bill pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that would have funded an extremely similar voucher proposal aimed at students with disabilities. The bill would have sent public taxpayer dollars to private entities that provide services to students with disabilities, which are not subject to the protections and accountability required by federal education law. In fact, it would have required participating students to surrender their federal protections under the IDEA.

ATPE members have long opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers, including ESA programs in which there is little oversight of how the money is ultimately spent. ATPE is extremely disappointed the governor has made the unilateral decision to spend our state’s GEER funds in such a manner, not only circumventing the Legislature’s clear opposition to vouchers but also denying the use of this $30 million allocation by public schools that need additional COVID-19 relief and are in a better position to equitably and efficiently provide for the needs of all students with disabilities.

In addition to opposing further efforts to funnel public education dollars to private individuals or entities with little oversight, ATPE urges lawmakers to continue their efforts to improve the state’s school finance system in a manner that will ensure districts have access to the resources they need for serving all students in an equitable and responsible manner. Funding for school districts on behalf of their students should match the actual student needs rather than being based on arbitrary and rigid formulas that can be limiting and frustrating for families.

Read ATPE’s press statement about the SSES announcement here.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas schools tell teachers with medical risks to return to classrooms

Several school districts are trying to accommodate teachers with health conditions who want to work from home, but many are being called back in as more students return to classrooms.

Joy Tucker outside her home in Deer Park. Credit: The Texas Tribune

Texas schools tell teachers with medical risks they must return to classrooms during the pandemic

After several miscarriages over the last few years, Joy Tucker is finally pregnant with her third child at the age of 37.

A school counselor at the Houston-based Windmill Lakes campus at the International Leadership of Texas charter school, Tucker talked to her doctor about the risks she and her child would face if she were to contract COVID-19 from students or other employees. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that pregnant people may be at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, or even preterm birth. At her doctor’s recommendation, Tucker turned in a note asking her school if she could work remotely.

School leaders denied that request, saying she would have to return to work in person in September. If not, Tucker would have to use the rest of her paid leave to remain home, leaving her no time to recover after the baby’s birth. Her options quickly dwindling and her baby due in January, Tucker lawyered up and filed a grievance with the school district.

“I want nothing more than to go back to work and be with my kids,” said Tucker, who chose to use paid leave instead of returning in September. “If I have to choose between mine and my baby’s life, or going to work in a situation where we could get sick or we could die, there’s no choice to make — I have to stay home.”

Caitlin Madison, a spokesperson for the charter school, declined to comment on Tucker’s case but said, “since this school year started, the ILTexas policy has been that if we have students on campus, then we need to have our employees on campus as well.” About 28% of students in the district have chosen to return to campus.

“The only work-from-home exception for campus staff has been if they are sick with COVID or were potentially exposed to COVID and require a 14-day quarantine,” she added.

International Leadership of Texas is one of a number of Texas schools denying some teachers’ requests to work from home, as they balance staffing against often-fluctuating student enrollment. Federal disability law allows employees to ask their bosses for reasonable accommodations, such as temporary schedule changes, shift changes or working remotely, if an illness puts them at higher risk for COVID-19.

School districts must grant those requests unless they would pose an “undue hardship,” including costing too much or impeding their ability to run the school. With Texas largely requiring school districts to bring back all students who want to return, administrators like those at International Leadership of Texas argue they cannot run their school campuses properly if too many teachers stay at home. More than 2 million of 5.5 million Texas students were attending school in person as of late September, according to a state estimate, an increase from 1 million earlier this fall.

Experts say that school districts should layer safety requirements such as masks, social distancing and sanitizing to keep COVID-19 from spreading. In other countries, transmission in schools has been extremely low. But few of those countries had the same level of uncontrolled community spread as Texas, which has failed to contain the virus in many regions and is seeing regional surges in cases. State data on transmission in public schools shows almost 6,500 teachers reported positive COVID-19 cases, but the data is limited and full of gaps.

Given the unclear picture of COVID-19’s spread in Texas schools, teachers say school administrators are unfairly expecting them to put their lives in danger, in some cases requiring all staff to return to campuses even when most students have chosen virtual learning. Texas teachers have little leverage, given the state’s strict labor laws: Any teachers who strike could be stripped of their jobs, teaching certificates and pension benefits.

“You don’t need to be in an office to do your job,” said Tony Conners, who is representing Tucker and has exclusively represented teachers for more than 30 years. “Since spring break, when COVID-19 hit, everyone was working from home and [school districts] were taking the money from the government and they were telling the communities and parents that they were being well served.”

Conners said he’s heard from more teachers than ever before wanting counsel on how to get accommodations to stay home. The toughest cases, he said, are in charter schools and suburban districts. By law the process is individualized, requiring school leaders to talk with employees about how to meet their needs.

But districts do not have to hire new staff or create new positions to accommodate someone under the law, said Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards. “If more than half of students are coming back, you have to create social distancing in the physical environment, which may mean you need smaller class sizes and therefore you need all hands on deck,” she said. “A lot of districts responded to that by saying, ‘We don’t have remote-only positions.’”

Even districts currently providing teachers with accommodations cannot guarantee them for the entire year, since many are allowing parents to decide each marking period whether to enroll their students in virtual or in-person education.

“If we can provide some of those accommodations without creating a hardship on a campus where they wouldn’t be able to serve their students safely, then I wanted to be able to proudly say that we had valued both students and staff,” said Austin Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde.

About 700 of 5,000 total Austin ISD teachers have received permission to work virtually at least through December. But as more students return in person, “we will be challenged to keep all of those accommodations for a long time …… There is of course fine print that says, if it becomes necessary to rescind the approval for school student needs, then we would have to do so,” she said.

Some teachers have already had that rug pulled out from under them. In August, Gina Morreale, an Eanes ISD middle school history teacher, was approved to work remotely after turning in a note from her doctor explaining her chronic bronchitis and susceptibility to pneumonia. She even got an email from administrators asking her not to come on campus to do her work sponsoring the cheerleading team. Lean on the cheer moms, she was told.

A month later, Eanes administrators decided to bring back all students who wanted to come in person, instead of phasing them in slowly. Unfortunately for Morreale, that meant also bringing all staff back to campus.

“This can’t apply to me,” she remembers thinking. “Maybe this applies to someone who is in a walking boot — someone that wasn’t high risk.” She started to think through her options — Could she quit and move in with her parents? Did she need to look for a new job?

She asked her doctor for another letter with more detail, and said she is still working with district leaders, hoping they can agree on an accommodation.

Eanes ISD was forced to call its staff back to ensure there were enough personnel, said spokesperson Claudia McWhorter. The human resources department is working with concerned educators on a case-by-case basis. “Even when we were at 25% capacity, our campuses were short-staffed; some campuses have been forced to have an all-hands approach and even have principals serving as teachers in classrooms,” McWhorter said in an email. “Simply put: with more students returning, we need staff in the buildings.”

For now, Morreale has been able to work remotely, but she’s not sure how long the district will allow it.

“I hope I can until it is safe for me,” she said.

Administrators that deny teachers’ requests to stay at home are offering other options. Baskin said the school board association is training human resources directors to get creative in thinking about accommodations that could help teachers with health risks safely work from school buildings. That might mean offering a more remote office away from students and teachers or extra safety equipment.

Six years after finishing multiple rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer, Pasadena ISD high school English teacher Elizabeth Alanis asked if she could work from home. Her white blood cell count, which determines the health of her immune system, still yo-yos every several months.

To her horror, after a conversation with school leaders, she received a letter denying her request to stay home long term. The district instead offered to minimize her direct contact with students, provide her with plexiglass dividers and protective equipment, set up student desk shields or move her classroom to an external portable building so she didn’t have to pass many people in the halls.

“Your job duties and responsibilities require your physical presence on campus as of September 8, 2020,” they wrote in a letter Alanis provided to The Texas Tribune. “Consequently, the District does not believe allowing you to telework after the short-term program has ended and after students have returned to campus, is a reasonable accommodation based on your job duties and responsibilities as a classroom teacher.”

According to the district, she is one of 59 teachers who have formally requested to work from home through the federal disability accommodations process, of about 3,700 teachers total. None of them were allowed to work from home past Sept. 8, when students returned to campus. “Pasadena ISD must provide students attending in-person instruction with a safe, supervised school/campus environment, and that effort is supported by all of our staff being physically present,” said Arturo Del Barrio, spokesperson for Pasadena ISD. The percentage of students on campus is gradually increasing, from about 40% in September to almost half by mid-October.

Alanis used her personal leave days to remain at home until mid-October, but decided to return Tuesday, unable to afford unpaid leave for months. “I’ve spoken to my oncologist on this matter and he knows it’s a tough place to be in. My white blood cell count is still low, so that just means I’ll have to take extra precautions,” she said. “I am going to invest in a medical grade mask and I am going to also invest in an air purifier with a UV light.”

Sitting out of classes for even part of a semester is heartbreaking for Alanis, who has been a teacher for 16 years, most of them in Pasadena ISD. “There’s not much they can take from me at this point. They’ve already kind of taken who I am,” she said, her voice over the phone showing she was close to tears. “I’ve had such huge ties to my students, to my community. And oh my God, I love those kids.”


Texas schools tell teachers with medical risks they must return to classrooms during the pandemic” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/20/texas-schools-teachers-coronavirus-pandemic/.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 16, 2020

Here are this week’s education news highlights, brought to you by ATPE Governmental Relations:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), Governor Greg Abbott announced this week that eight school systems would be included in a COVID-19 rapid testing pilot. Participating schools will receive rapid antigen tests that can produce results in 15 minutes. The tests will be administered to students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate. The state hopes eventually to expand rapid testing in schools to mitigate the spread of the virus as more students return for in-person learning. Read more about the program in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.

This week’s updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that, compared to last week’s reported numbers, positive cases rose by 2.6% among students and 6.8% among staff. As districts are notified of positive test results, they may update their numbers, and the dashboard’s values for the prior week (ending Oct. 4) have increased beyond what was previously reported. The updated data show last week’s positive cases rose by 11.8% among students and 15.5% among staff. (The increases reported last week were significantly less than this, at 2.3% among students and 7.8% among staff.) As a reminder, positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities.

ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page includes newly updated information about educators returning to school. Here are additional ATPE resources:

  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring our latest video on helping kids thrive in today’s world.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our interactive timeline.
  • ATPE members can send messages to their government officials through Advocacy Central.

ELECTION UPDATE: The first week of early voting is almost over, and record numbers of Texans have already cast their votes. Early voting lasts until Oct. 30! If you haven’t voted yet, check out ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on her early voting experience, which includes tips for a smooth trip to the polls.

ATPE Exec. Dir. Shannon Holmes sports his “I voted early” sticker

Court decisions continue to impact ballot drop off locations and the use of drive-thru and curbside voting. The Senate District 30 special election runoff between Shelley Luther and Rep. Drew Springer has been set for Dec. 19. For more election-related news, see this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

You may have noticed on ATPE’s Twitter and Facebook that ATPE members and staff are posting videos on why they vote. Share your own video on social media using #WhyIVoteTXEd and tag @OfficialATPE and @Teach the Vote! Find additional general election voting dates and reminders here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


As mentioned in this article by the Dallas Morning News, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was invited to testify on teacher workforce issues during a Senate Education Committee interim hearing this week. Exter advocated for streamlined professional development and reduced paperwork burdens on districts and educators. The committee also heard invited testimony from adult education providers and education preparation programs. Read more about the hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and see ATPE’s written testimony here.


The 2020 Census count ended this week after an October 13 Supreme Court order shortened the deadline from October 31 to October 15. The deadline has fluctuated multiple times as the Trump administration played tug-of-war with the courts. Some argue the administration wanted to cut the deadline to ensure time to manipulate the census data to exclude unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Read more about the development in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


TEA sent out a notice this week to Education Service Centers and district testing coordinators describing a new method for calculating the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-2021 school year. The modified measure would reach back in to 2018-19 student testing data, skipping over 2019-20 since no tests were given due to the pandemic. Questions remain as to whether the STAAR testing is appropriate at this time and how a modified progress measure might be used in the accountability system for 2020-21. Read more in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

TEA announces modified STAAR progress measure

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) sent a notification to Education Service Centers and school district testing coordinators this week that outlines how the agency intends to approach the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-21 school year.

Typically, the STAAR progress measure is based on the change in a student’s scores between the current year and the prior year. Because the STAAR tests were cancelled in Spring and Summer 2020 due to COVID-19, calculations using results for the 2019-20 school year are not feasible.

As a workaround, TEA will temporarily modify the calculation of the progress measure to be based off student scores from the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years. Due to this change, students currently in 4th grade will be excluded, as they were in an untested grade (2nd grade) in 2018-19.

According to the notice, STAAR progress measures will be calculated for STAAR and STAAR Alternate 2 for the following grade levels and subject areas:

  • Grade 5 Reading English, Reading Spanish (STAAR only), Mathematics English, and Mathematics Spanish (STAAR only)
  • Grade 6 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 7 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 8 Reading and Mathematics
  • Algebra I
  • English I (STAAR Alternate 2 only)
  • English II

The agency has not determined whether these modified progress measures will be used in the Texas public school accountability system’s “School Progress” and “Closing the Gaps” domains, which are two of three domains used to determine academic accountability “A-F” ratings and interventions for public schools. The third domain used to calculate a composite score for districts and campuses is the “Student Achievement” domain.

TEA warns in the notice that the modified progress measure for 2020-21 is different from previous years both in context (massive educational disruptions) and in methodology. The agency also advises against using the measures for the new optional Teacher Incentive Allotment.

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA announced that STAAR scores would not be required factors in determining fifth and eighth grade promotion this year. However, state officials have not shown a willingness to waive testing requirements for a second year. At a Sept. 18 event in Dallas, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.”

The admitted difficulty in relying on modified measures during a pandemic points to the inappropriateness of using STAAR scores for any high-stakes purposes at this time. While standardized testing may provide some insight into learning, any interpretation of STAAR data will be highly suspect and unreliable due to the myriad other factors that have arisen during the pandemic. As urged by our House of Delegates earlier this year, ATPE will continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for relief from testing and accountability requirements during this challenging and unusual academic year.

From The Texas Tribune: Eight Texas school systems will get rapid tests with new pilot program

Partitions made from clear shower curtains and PVC pipe separate desks in a fourth grade classroom at Abilene’s Texas Leadership Charter Academy. The barriers are to prevent children from potentially spreading the coronavirus to classmates. Credit: Ronald W. Erdrich/Abilene Reporter-News

Coronavirus tests with results in 15 minutes or less are coming to a few Texas schools as part of a new pilot program announced Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“As more students return to campus for in-person instruction, the State of Texas is working alongside school officials to provide resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff,” Abbott said in a news release.

The program is meant to help schools conduct rapid tests of employees and students who have written permission from parents. Health experts have said accessible, rapid testing could help the state achieve substantive widespread COVID-19 testing, an elusive public health goal for Texas and much the country.

John Wittman, a spokesperson for the governor, said the tests are part of the millions being provided to Texas by the federal government. The medical company producing the tests said the antigen tests require a nasal swab, cost $5 and are about the size of a credit card.

Through the program, the Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide the tests to school systems, which will receive personal protective equipment to administer them to willing participants, according to the release. The Texas Education Agency said in an email that it will provide a monthly allotment of tests to each school system. The agency said school systems will determine how the tests will be conducted because they know “what works best for their school and community,” and each school system will provide test administrators to give the tests.

“Thank you to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for providing these advanced antigen tests to the State of Texas,” Abbott said. “This rapid testing pilot program will be an effective strategy to protect the health and safety of students and staff while helping to further ensure that Texas students have access to a quality education throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

Eight school systems are participating in the launch of the program: Bob Hope School in Port Arthur, Fabens Independent School District, Grace Community School in Tyler, Granger Independent School District, Lampasas Independent School District, Longview Independent School District, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District. Other public and private schools interested in the program can apply through the TEA no later than Wednesday, Oct. 28, the release said.

Wittman said implementation and testing will be “ramped up significantly,” he said, but first any issues need to be worked out in the pilot program.

Rapid antigen tests, which can detect proteins on the outside of the virus, are more prone to giving false negative results than other coronavirus tests that use genetic material.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that a positive test result on an antigen test is “highly accurate,” but “antigen tests are more likely to miss an active coronavirus infection compared to molecular tests.”

But Joseph Petrosino, chair of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a previous interview that the tests are most useful in settings such as schools because the same people can be tested every three to four days, eliminating the chances of having a false negative result.


Eight Texas school systems will get rapid coronavirus tests with new pilot program” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Census deadline is now Oct. 15 following Supreme Court ruling

At the request of the Trump administration, the United States Supreme Court yesterday issued an order to cut the 2020 Census count short — bumping up the deadline for individuals to submit their online census responses to October 15 at 11:59 P.M. Hawaii time. For residents here in Texas, that deadline for online submissions translates to Friday, October 16, at 4:59 A.M. Central Daylight Time or 3:59 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time. Paper responses to the census must be postmarked by Thursday, October 15, 2020.

If you have not filled out your census, you can do so online HERE.

The deadline for the census count has fluctuated ever since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted census operations. Before the Supreme Court ruled, the most recent deadline as ordered by lower courts was to be October 31. That came after lawsuits were filed in response to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s August 3 announcement that it would end census collection on September 30.

Under federal law, the census data must be delivered to the states in the form of apportionment counts (to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives) by December 31, 2020. The U.S. House of Representatives has already filed and passed bipartisan legislation that would extend the census deadlines required by federal law to give the U.S. Census Bureau more time to process and tabulate census data before sending it to the states. The U.S. Senate, however, has not taken similar action.

The U.S. Supreme Court order was made at the request of the Trump administration, who argues that there will not be enough data processing time in order to meet the December 31 deadline to send apportionment data to the states. Others argue the push to shorten the timeline advances a Trump administration policy that aims to exclude unauthorized immigrants from census counts, which could decrease the number of U.S. House members representing Texas in Congress. This exclusionary proposal was blocked by a lower court in September but has since been appealed by the Trump administration and now sits pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Due to the extensive field work of census enumerators, Texas is at a response rate of 99.9% while other states such as Louisiana and Mississippi are at lower rates and need more time. What is really at stake is if the Trump administration follows through with its plan to exclude individuals from the count, as the long-standing interpretation of the census has been to count all persons living in the United States. Any exclusion would not only impact representation, but also essential funding for public education, transportation, and health care.

Early voting in the 2020 general election, pandemic-style

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas for the 2020 general election. Plenty of time to make a plan and choose a time when the lines may be shorter. Here is what my voting experience was like and a five-step checklist for those who want to vote in-person. Remember, early voting lasts until October 30. Be sure to check the days and times the polls will be open in your county.

Checklist for in-person voting:

Step 1: Research candidates and propositions that will be on your ballot (see step 2 for finding your ballot). Here on Teach the Vote, you can review candidate profiles for those seeking state legislative or State Board of Education seats to learn more about their views on public education issues. The profiles include responses to ATPE’s candidate survey and voting records for incumbent legislators. Other nonpartisan resources such as the League of Women Voters of Texas Voters Guide, sponsored in part by ATPE, can provide information on other races.

Step 2: Create a sample ballot that is customized for the races in your area.

With the Vote411.org voter guide, you can make your ballot selections and have them emailed to you for easy printing. Alternately, you can visit your county website to find your FULL ballot, which will include local and municipal candidates and propositions that Vote411 may not cover. Print out or write down on paper your selections to take with you to your polling place. Remember, state law prohibits the use of cell phones within 100 feet of a polling place.

Step 3: Find your early voting and/or election day polling locations and hours here.

There are many places to case your vote, especially during early voting. Check the list of polling places in your area, and verify that your preferred polling place is open during early voting. Plan ahead with your partner on child care arrangements, picking up dinner, or whatever you need to do to ensure you have enough time to vote on the date you choose. I recommend getting to the polls earlier in the day and giving yourself plenty of time, just in case there is a line and because Texas is hot! Some counties use online tools that post live wait times at each polling location. Check your county election clerk’s website to find out if yours does.

Step 4: Get your materials ready.

Pack up your paper copy of your sample ballot with candidate selections, voter ID, stylus or pencil with eraser (optional), and a mask. If you have the appropriate voter ID, bringing your voter registration card is not necessary, as all you need to check in is your photo ID.

Step 5: VOTE!

 

Optional Pro Tips

Pro tip 1: Bring a friend to the polls. This will help both of you remember to cast your vote.

Pro tip 2: After you vote, post a selfie with your I Voted sticker. Tag @TeachTheVote and use the hashtag #TxEdVotes2020.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 9, 2020

Education supporters celebrated World Teachers’ Day on Monday. We at ATPE believe every day should be Teachers’ Day, and we thank you for your hard work each and every day! Here are this week’s other education news highlights, brought to you by ATPE Governmental Relations:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Governor Greg Abbott announced this week that he is relaxing restrictions on bars this week, allowing those in counties with low hospitalization rates to open at a capacity of 50%, so long as their county judge opts in.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated its COVID-19 resource page this week to reflect new guidance on attendance and enrollment, stating that school systems choosing to offer only remote instruction for a given day (such as Election Day) must ensure they meet the 75,600-minute requirement for the year and must still offer in-person instruction to families who want it. If the district remains in an approved transition period by Election Day and wants to offer remote-only instruction that day, it would be subject to TEA requirements that some students are present for on-campus instruction. Additionally, TEA noted that although school districts can adopt their own mask restrictions at school for students and staff, they cannot enforce mask requirements for voters on Election Day.

Also, the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard housed on the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) website was updated this week. The site uses data that school districts report to TEA on the number of test-confirmed cases among students and staff who engage in on-campus activities and instruction. Compared to last week’s reported numbers, the number of positive cases rose by 2.3% among students and 7.8% among staff.

Be sure to check out ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page and these other resources:

  • Get answers to common legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring our latest video on giving each other grace.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our updated, interactive timeline.
  • Send messages to your government officials through Advocacy Central (for ATPE members only).

ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting begins Tuesday, October 13, and lasts three weeks through October 30. The Texas Supreme Court this week upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to expand early voting by a week with the aim of easing crowding at polling locations. Meanwhile, federal election money is pouring into Texas — a sign that both parties see a competitive presidential race in our state for the first time in years. That means Texans will see many more campaign ads in the final weeks before November 3, but they may not see another presidential debate. Read the latest in this week’s Texas election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The League of Women Voters hosted a virtual event this week on the importance of learning about down-ballot races and how they impact you. Panelists for the event included ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who described how education is on the ballot from your choice of president, who appoints the U.S. Secretary or Education, all the way down to your school board. Watch the event here.

Raise Your Hand Texas has additional “For the Future” candidate forums taking place next week, where you can learn more about candidates’ stances on public education issues. Click here for details.

Find additional general election voting dates and reminders here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


FEDERAL UPDATE: Congressional negotiations on a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill came to an abrupt halt Tuesday afternoon when President Trump tweeted out, “I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election…” The following day, after sharp declines in the stock market caused by his initial tweet, the President reversed course in part by calling for a handful of piecemeal bills. None of these standalone measures favored by the president and Senate Republicans would include relief funding for public education. Stay tuned for updates as the back-and-forth in Washington continues.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to advance a pro-private school voucher agenda in meetings and events around the country. Voucher provisions have also been included in some of the Senate’s recent proposals for additional COVID-19 relief funding. At an event in Wisconsin yesterday moderated by the DeVos-associated “American Federation of Children,” parents complained that their income levels were too high to take advantage of voucher program in that state and argued that income caps should be abolished. Wisconsin already has 43,000 students enrolled in private schools with the assistance of vouchers, and 16,000 students in that state attend charter schools. DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education have also been pushing for the expansion of charter schools, with $33 million in grants announced last Friday for the state of Texas to grow its network of charter schools. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today, Oct. 9, 2020, voting to allow lifetime Legacy Master Teacher certificates. ATPE initiated the action on the Legacy Master Teacher issue by bringing it to SBEC members after hearing concerns from the field. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier also testified against a proposal to allow email notifications of disciplinary investigations against educators, rather than certified and registered mail that is currently required. Read more about the meeting in this post by Chevalier.