Tag Archives: Monty Exter

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 20, 2020

ATPE wishes every Teach the Vote reader a happy and safe Thanksgiving! Take a break from meal-planning to read this week’s education news highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations:


We reported last week that ATPE had again written to state officials urging a waiver of STAAR testing requirements this year. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to Fox 7 Austin about the issue Monday. “We’ve already got a lot of trauma and pressure,” said Exter, referring to the difficulties the pandemic has caused this school year. This week, Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) organized a bipartisan group of Texas legislators in writing a similar letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to ask that STAAR be cancelled for 2020-21. Bernal noted STAAR tests, if administered, should be used for diagnostic purposes at most. Read more about the letter in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

ATPE and Rep. Bernal aren’t alone. Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) also sent a letter with 791 signatures to Gov. Abbott, urging the state to request a federal testing waiver. The parent-led group Texans Advocating for Meaningful State Assessment (TAMSA) also sent a letter to Abbott this week, similarly asking the state to seek a federal waiver and requesting that the high stakes associated with the test be removed.

Not all members of the education community are on board with cancelling STAAR tests altogether, however. A group made up of 14 school superintendents, business leaders, and representatives from the groups Teach Plus and EducateTexas issued a letter to Commissioner Morath this week calling for this year’s STAAR tests to proceed. Citing learning losses caused by the pandemic, the group wrote, “We strongly believe that Texas as a state should keep the 2021 STAAR
administration assessment,” although the group believes “student, school and district accountability measures linked to testing should be suspended for this year.”


This week, ATPE released a report titled, “An Impossible Situation: Why Texas Educators Are Struggling to Serve Students During COVID-19—and Pathways State and District Leaders Can Follow to Correct the Course,” which analyzed three educator surveys conducted by ATPE over the course of the pandemic. The surveys show that educators are concerned with their health and safety, often feeling they are not a priority to state and district leaders. Educators are also experiencing mental health effects due to increased workloads and the stress of the pandemic. In its report, ATPE outlines actions the state could take the remediate the effects of the pandemic on educators and students, such as including educators in planning and providing resources to alleviate stresses associated with staffing and lack of cleaning supplies. Read more on the report in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and explore our interactive site with the survey data here.

Concerns expressed by educators in response to ATPE’s surveys are also reflected in a new article by The Texas Tribune‘s education reporter Aliyya Swaby, republished here on our blog today. The article shares parents’ frustrations as their children struggle in remote learning environments and highlights the difficulties exacerbated by state officials’ slow and often changing guidance to educators and school district leaders this year.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In a press conference held Thursday afternoon in Lubbock, Gov. Greg Abbott said there would be no further shutdowns in Texas, adding that he believes closing businesses and restaurants is not an effective method for curbing the spread of COVID-19. Instead, Abbott suggested that personal responsibility and self-regulation were important factors in keeping infections down.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated several documents on its Coronavirus Support and Guidance page this week, most notably its Attendance and Enrollment FAQ. Based on the changes, schools can now access a 14-day period of remote-only or hybrid instruction if the school determines that staff absences due to COVID-19 would make in-person instruction impractical. The simple application for the remote-only period is said to be “approved upon receipt.” As has been the case in prior guidance, TEA says students who do not have access to internet or devices and whose parents want them on-campus must be allowed to attend school in person.

Perhaps due to Halloween parties or just an increase in students on campus, the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard is showing a spike. For the week ending November 8, updates to the number of new weekly positive cases show a 48.0% increase among students and 38.7% increase among staff who participate in on-campus activities and instruction. Given that these values have gone up since last week’s incomplete data for the week ending in Nov. 8 was reported, the numbers for the week ending in Nov. 15 may be just as staggering after the dashboard’s next update post-Thanksgiving. (No new numbers will be reported next week on account of the holiday.)

Check out ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to educators’ questions, and visit Advocacy Central (for ATPE members only) to share your pandemic-related input with legislators and other state and federal officials.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met for its last meeting of the year this week. On Wednesday, members heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who showed no signs of cancelling this year’s STAAR test. Morath did say the agency was considering changes to how the test interacts with the state’s A-F accountability system. Read more about the commissioner’s conversation with SBOE members in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives, Nov. 19, 2020.

Also on Wednesday, the SBOE approved its legislative recommendations, including one to expand the board’s authority to approve or reject charter school expansion amendments. On Thursday, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of an ATPE-backed rule change that would eliminate the expiration of Legacy Master Teacher certificates. Read more about the SBOE’s Wednesday and Thursday meetings in this blog post by Wiggins.

The board on Friday gave its final approval for the Master Teacher fix, delivering a major win for Texas educators, and approved new curriculum standards for health, physical education, and science. The board also said goodbye to long-serving members Donna Bahorich, Barbara Cargill, Marty Rowley, and Ken Mercer. Read more about Friday’s meeting in this post by Wiggins.


On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) announced that $420 million in federal CARES Act funds would be made available to school districts as a reimbursement for prior purchases of Wi-Fi hotspots and e-learning devices, such as laptops and tablets. Districts must apply for the funds by December 11 and will be reimbursed at a rate of 75%. ATPE issued a statement Wednesday calling the reimbursements a step in the right direction, but noting the need for additional relief. As districts only have three weeks to apply for the funds (one of which is a holiday week), ATPE also implored TEA to remove obstacles to completing the application.

The reimbursement program is one of the ways Texas officials have opted to spend the federal CARES Act money this year. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.


A newly filed bill to reform the state’s healthcare program for educators is raising eyebrows. Rep. Ken King (R-Hempill) pre-filed House Bill (HB) 430, which would shut down both the active and retiree healthcare plans that currently exist through TRS. In a letter to educators, King said he intends to file additional legislation to complement HB 430 in his efforts to improve educators’ retirement prospects in Texas. Read more about the proposal in this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 13, 2020

From COVID-19 to Social Security and everything in between, check out this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team on this Friday the 13th:


ATPE continues to lobby for a waiver of testing and accountability requirements this year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote to Governor Greg Abbott this week to again urge relief from state testing laws. COVID-19 has caused mounting stress for educators and students, which is only amplified by standardized testing and the likely negative implications of unreliable testing data. “Despite the increasing backlash against testing, state officials thus far have offered the education community little hope for relief,” wrote Holmes, urging the governor to grant waivers and seek flexibility from federal officials. Read ATPE’s letter here plus additional detail in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

In an interview with NBC Local 23, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter argued that teachers should be able to focus on serving their students rather than testing, especially with heightened academic, social, and emotional needs stemming from the pandemic. Exter also stressed that teachers are best-equipped to assess their own students in a much more accurate and effective manner.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is urging educators to contact their members of Congress about a new retirement bill filed recently in Washington by U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal (D – Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R – TX). The association is asking the bill’s authors to amend their high-profile bill with language to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces many public employees’ Social Security benefits. Both Brady and Neal have proposed a WEP fix in their previously filed bills, and ATPE is requesting the WEP language to be added onto their new legislation, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020, in order to give educators the relief they deserve.

ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send a quick message to the Texas congressional delegation about this legislation and the need for WEP relief.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard now shows that for the week ending November 1, the number of positive cases increased 4.5% among students and 5.4% among staff who participate in on-campus activities and instruction. More notably, however, the number of positive cases for the most recent week of data (ending November 8) appears to have risen a staggering 25.8% among students and 14.3% among staff. These numbers are alarming as data reported for the most recent week are usually incomplete and likely to increase with the next week’s update. It is unclear whether these trends are reflective of upward infection trends statewide or an increase in students participating in on-campus instruction as the school year progresses.

We reported here on Teach the Vote last week that ATPE sent a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath sharing educators’ complaints about how the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has handled local issues arising from the pandemic. To date ATPE has not received any response to that letter. Last week we also reported on TEA’s clarification of its guidance allowing districts to require certain students to attend school in person. The topic has garnered much media attention. On Friday, November 6, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins spoke with CBS Austin and stressed that the state should focus on investing in education and prioritizing relief from testing.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to numerous questions asked by educators. Also, don’t forget to visit Advocacy Central (for ATPE members only) to share your coronavirus concerns with legislators and other state and federal officials.


This week, The Texas Tribune’s education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel discussion about rural education in Texas. Swaby sat down with Donna Hale, superintendent of Miami Independent School District, Georgina C. Pérez, member of the Texas State Board of Education, and state Rep. Gary VanDeaver to talk about broadband access, teacher retention, and maintaining education funding, among other topics. Learn more and view archived video of the panel presentation here.


ELECTION UPDATE: With the election 10 days in the past, we have unofficial final results in Texas and just a couple races that may head to recounts, according to the Texas Tribune. This week on Teach the Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on Texas’ record-breaking turnout, the presumptive next Texas House Speaker, and other news. Read Mark’s Texas election roundup here, and see ATPE’s list of the full election results for Texas legislative and State Board of Education races here. Thank you to all who voted!



The Senate Education Committee met today to hear remote testimony from invited witnesses only on virtual schools, special education, COVID-19, and the implementation of two of the major education bills passed last session. Read more about the hearing, believed to be the last one the committee will hold before the 2021 legislative session begins in January, in this blog post today from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Related: Monday marked the beginning of the pre-filing period for bills to be considered by the Legislature next session. As of today, 745 bills have already been pre-filed. Search, read, and follow bills that have been filed at Texas Legislature Online.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 6, 2020

It’s been a long week, but the election isn’t the only thing happening. Catch up with these news highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ELECTION UPDATE: This week, we celebrated a long-awaited Election Day for the 2020 general election. Despite record turnout, Texas ended up seeing less of a “blue wave” than many polls had anticipated. Republicans maintained control of the Texas House and Senate, the State Board of Education and statewide offices on the ballot such as Texas Supreme Court seats.

While results are still up in the air nationally for the presidential race, we know more about what the election results mean here at home in Texas. Read this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a preliminary analysis of the election, including what the results mean for the election of a new House Speaker. ATPE will provide additional analysis of the election results in Texas once ballot counts are more complete.

ATPE is grateful to all who turned out to vote in this historic election!


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) made several updates to its Coronavirus Support and Guidance page this week. TEA’s public health guidance was updated to include instructions for when asymptomatic, test-positive individuals can return to school and a clarification that close contact can be 15 minutes over the course of the day rather than 15 consecutive minutes. This is a consequential change for teachers and students who are in intermittent close contact throughout the day.

TEA also updated its attendance and enrollment FAQs to allow districts to require a student to come back for in-person instruction (e.g., a remote student who is falling behind), following certain protocols. Additionally, as has been the case in TEA’s guidance on STAAR testing, students must be on-campus for STAAR testing. The agency has noted that the paper-testing window cannot be extended due to processing requirements. ATPE has been urging state and federal officials to waive testing requirements this year due to the pandemic.

ATPE also wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath this week asking the agency for more local help for schools that are struggling during the pandemic. Read more in in the next section.

Updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that for the week ending October 25, the number of positive cases increased 10.8% among students and 7.7% among staff. We are not reporting on the data for the week ending in November 1 because the most recent week’s data has consistently been incomplete, typically showing a marked increase the following week as districts input new information. Positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities. It is unclear whether these trends are reflective of upward trends in the state or an increase in students participating in on-campus instruction as the school year progresses.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to common questions asked by educators. Find additional ATPE resources related to the pandemic on our professional learning portal, and don’t forget to visit Advocacy Central where ATPE members can contact their legislators and other state and federal officials to share concerns about the coronavirus response or other issues.


This week ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to complain about the state’s recent handling of local COVID-19 issues. “As the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life, educators are disappointed with what they perceive as a lack of leadership shown by state officials and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as school districts across the state grapple with very real challenges,” wrote Holmes.

The letter cites two examples of local challenges stemming from the pandemic that TEA has failed to adequately address. The first example is in El Paso, where soaring COVID-19 cases prompted local superintendents to ask the state for additional time for remote instruction. TEA released revised guidance in a Region 19 School Safe Zones plan that would allow El Paso school districts to have fewer students on their campuses. ATPE lauded the agency’s decision use objective, virus-related metrics at the local level in determining when it is safe to reopen campuses, which we have long recommended, but we also shared recommendations on making the Region 19 plan more effective and expanding it for statewide use. ATPE’s letter also criticized TEA for failing to enforce its own COVID-19 guidance when some school districts have refused to implement health and safety precautions or neglected to report COVID-19 case numbers on their campuses. TEA has declined to take any enforcement action, saying instead that local school boards should decide what to do in those cases.

Read more in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, and read ATPE’s November 2 letter to Commissioner Morath here.


With the election now (mostly) in the rear-view mirror, more attention is turning toward the upcoming 2021 legislative session and the outlook for public education funding. With a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, the fate of funding and education policy will rest in the same hands (albeit with some new members and a new Speaker of the House) as during the 2019 legislative session.

The last legislative session saw major school finance reforms and an increase in public education funding that enabled a pay raise for many Texas teachers. But with the state facing a deficit, many have wondered if lawmakers will allocate resources to preserve the gains made last session. ATPE State Treasurer Jayne Serna and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke with KXAN news this week about school funding and the anxiety many educators feel about their pay.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins also spoke to the media this week about the need for increased resources to help public schools deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mark spoke about the anticipated need for remediation of students as a result of learning losses during the time that the pandemic has disrupted the school environment. Extra help for struggling students will necessitate additional financial resources. Watch Mark’s Thursday interview with Fox 7 Austin here.

For more on the funding needs for public education, keep reading below.


The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) held joint hearings this week regarding legislative appropriations requests (LARs) that have been submitted recently by multiple state agencies, including the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Education Commissioner Mike Morath briefly outlined his agency’s LAR on Thursday, which he said seeks to maintain current funding levels with the exception of two new “exceptional” items aimed at addressing COVID-19 issues. The first exceptional item is meant to alleviate learning loss that has disproportionately impacted students from low-income backgrounds, through targeted teacher and student-focused interventions. The second exceptional item would restore the 5% budget cuts made to the Windham School District.

Officials with the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also addressed the LBB at this week’s hearing. Executive Director Brian Guthrie testified that the TRS pension trust fund values decreased early in the pandemic, but they have since rebounded. TRS expects a 7.24% rate of return for this year. Guthrie also outlined his agency’s LAR, which includes requests for funding to hire additional TRS staff and open a regional office in El Paso.


 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 30, 2020

From ATPE Governmental Relations, here are this week’s spooky news highlights in the education world:


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting ends today, October 30, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. As our three-week early voting period comes to a close, Texas continues to break turnout records and is now considered a “toss-up” for which presidential candidate will win the Lone Star state. Read more election news in this week’s Texas election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

***IMPORTANT: If you requested a mail-in ballot, you may deposit your ballot at your county’s designated drop-off location by Election Day, November 3. With concerns about mail delays and the possibility of mailed ballots not being counted if they arrive too late, your best option is to drop off your ballot or vote in person. If you received a mail-in ballot but decide to vote in person, you must surrender your mail-in ballot at the polling place or risk being stuck with a provisional ballot that may not be counted.

Please continue to post your “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: After piloting rapid testing in several school systems for two weeks, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) announced this week that supplies and resources for COVID-19 testing will be expanded statewide to public and private school systems that opt in and meet certain requirements. To be eligible, the school system must provide in-person instruction to all students whose families request it within the next two weeks. The amount of supplies provided will depend on the COVID-19 conditions in the surrounding area and the population of the school system. Read more about the project here.

Since last week, updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show an increase in the number of positive cases reported for the week ending in October 18 for both students and staff. Previously, the data for the week ending in October 18 showed a decline, but new numbers from districts have since been added. The updated data show that between the weeks ending October 11 and October 18, the number of positive cases rose by 7.3% among students and 8.2% among staff. Positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities. TEA has indicated that viral spread almost always occurs outside of the school.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to common questions asked by educators. Here are some additional ATPE resources related to the pandemic:

  • Hear tips to manage pandemic anxiety in this ATPE-hosted webinar with therapist Kathryn Gates, available on demand.
  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s other webcasts on demand through 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. Write your own message or customize one of the sample messages provided for you on the site.
  • Take a look at the public resources available in our Parent-Teacher Toolkit.

FEDERAL UPDATE: This week the two top members of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee filed a major bipartisan bill aimed at helping Americans save more for retirement. Unfortunately, the “Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020” authored by U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal (D–Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R –TX) contains no provision to address the Windfall Elimination Provision that reduces many public employees’ Social Security benefits. Read more about the new bill in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


ATPE and 19 other pro-public education organizations sent feedback to TEA recommending 37 changes to the charter school application process to increase fairness, rigor, and transparency. Among the top recommendations were to have charter applicants include a zip code where the charter plans to locate, and to limit the charter approval process to once every two years in order to sync up with the legislative session and state budget. Read more about the recommendations in this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Governor Greg Abbott and TEA released a new 2019-20 compensation report this week showing the pay increases many teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses received as a result of last session’s House Bill 3. Across the state, teachers with 0-5 years of experience received an average raise of $3,839, and teachers with more than 5 years of experience received an average raise of $5,215. Read more about the report in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Happy Halloween from the ATPE lobby team! It’s been a scary year, and even though this year’s festivities may not be quite the same as in the past, we hope you can still enjoy a few spooky-themed classroom activities and seeing your students and colleagues in fun costumes. We wish you a not-so-scary weekend filled with candy, classic Halloween movies, and pleasant fall weather.

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.


 

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.

ATPE discusses teacher workforce issues with Senate committee

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday morning, Oct. 14, in Austin to discuss teacher workforce and adult education topics. Members of the committee met in person and heard testimony from invited witnesses who spoke to the committee virtually. The committee did not hear public testimony.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said each committee member was tested for COVID-19 prior to the meeting. Members on the dais were separated by clear plastic dividers and some wore face coverings. Chairman Taylor said the committee plans to hold one more meeting before the 87th Texas Legislature meets in January.

The committee first discussed the Goodwill Excel Center, which is a public charter school system serving adults between the ages of 18 and 50. There are six Excel Center campuses across the state that provide non-traditional adult students with a flexible school setting so that they can earn high school diplomas or their equivalent, as well as industry certifications. During the 2019 legislative session, ATPE supported House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which made permanent the Goodwill Excel Center and codified its best practices. Because of issues regarding how the current public school accountability system “fits” the Excel Center model, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff said the agency is developing an alternative evaluation regime that addresses differences in educating adults.

In addition to the Excel Center, there are several independent school districts across the state that serve adults up to age 25, in addition to the state-run Windham School District, which also offers adult education to incarcerated persons up to age 25. Windham staff testified their district serves 27,000 students per year, offering courses that lead to a high school diploma or career and technical certification. Unfortunately, Windham is subject to proposed TEA budget cuts that ATPE advocated against, citing potential harm to at-risk and disadvantaged student populations. The committee additionally heard from the San Antonio College Empowerment Center, which also offers adult education services.

The committee then discussed the recommendations of a working group on teacher workforce issues convened by the lieutenant governor. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was one of three representatives of the group invited to provide testimony today. The work group pointed out the gradual accumulation of confusing and often duplicative training requirements placed on educators. The requirements found in both Texas statutes and rules have become excessive and repetitive, preventing educators from pursuing training opportunities that best support their individual needs.

Monty Exter testified virtually before the Senate Education committee, Oct. 14, 2020.

The group recommended the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) create a statewide clearinghouse of training requirements that includes recommendations for best practices and frequency of training. The group said the state should empower local school boards to take information from that clearinghouse and adopt those requirements on a an annual basis. ATPE’s  Exter testified that the state should streamline professional development to eliminate duplication and confusion. Exter also pointed out there is a wide variety of requirements for recordkeeping and reporting, and suggested records should be retained locally, with districts allowed to provide them to TEA upon request in order to reduce paperwork.

The work group is preparing to release a 70-page document containing consensus recommendations approved by a large number of education stakeholders, including ATPE. The committee lastly heard from a number of educator preparation providers (EPPs) regarding the importance of preparing teachers for online learning.

ATPE submitted written testimony to the committee that offered a number of recommendations on the broader topic of teacher workforce issues. ATPE recommended the legislature ensure funding is in place to maintain any raises educators received as a result of House Bill (HB) 3 last session and fully fund mentoring and induction programs. ATPE recommended lawmakers also fund continuing professional education initiatives and maintain the freedom of educators to choose the professional development programs best for them. ATPE also recommended the state provide tuition assistance to increase diversity in the teacher workforce and lower the financial burden of attending high-quality undergraduate EPP programs.

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.


 

 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 11, 2020

Here is a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) adapted its guidance on equitable services this week to reflect a recent U.S. District Court ruling vacating the U.S. Department of Education’s interim final rule that directs public school districts to spend an unprecedented amount of taxpayer dollars on private school students. The court ruling issued last Friday makes the department’s rule unenforceable nationwide, but Secretary Betsy DeVos still has time to appeal the decision.

TEA also updated several other sections of its COVID-19 Support and Guidance page, including new intern and emergency certification waiver information that continues the suspensions on face-to-face requirements for candidates completing their internships, clinical experiences, field-based experiences, and practicums. Also, be sure to check out the new Project Restore training on resilience that was posted this week.

ATPE State Treasurer Jayne Serna and ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier participated in an educators’ town hall on COVID-19 and teaching this week. The Wednesday night event was hosted by U.S. Congressional District 10 candidate and former teacher Mike Seigel. Serna was the opening speaker for the event, sharing the difficulties educators are facing this school year and highlighting the importance of voting to elect pro-public education candidates. Chevalier provided an overview of COVID-19-related federal funding issues facing educators and students, federal waivers, and the need for congressional oversight of the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Also this week, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke with The Texas TribuneThe Dallas Morning News, and KBMT’s 12 News Now about the current state of teaching, learning gaps, and how spending cuts prompted by COVID-19 could impact students.

As a reminder, ATPE offers educators a gamut of resources:

  • Find answers from our legal team to frequently asked questions on our COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page.
  • Earn CPE by watching informative webcasts on topics such as educator rights, leave options, disability accommodations, and school safety through ATPE’s professional learning portal.
  • Explore an interactive pandemic timeline.
  • Take our survey on parent-teacher collaboration.
  • ATPE members only: Use Advocacy Central to communicate with elected officials about your concerns.

ELECTION UPDATE: Don’t let the November 3 general election creep up on you. Election Day is less than eight weeks away and early voting starts in one month. This means other deadlines for registering to vote or requesting a ballot-by-mail are even sooner! Remember that if you have moved recently or changed your name, you need to update your voter registration. Here are important dates to add to your calendar:

  • September 19: If your vote-by-mail application is received by this day, you are guaranteed to receive your ballot at least 30 days before Election Day.
  • September 22: National Voter Registration Day
  • October 5: Deadline to register to vote
  • October 13: First day of early voting
  • October 19: Educator Voting Day
  • October 23: Last day that a vote-by-mail application can be received (not postmarked)
  • October 30: Last day of early voting
  • November 3: Election Day! Mail-in ballots also must be received by this date.

If you happen to live in Texas Senate District 30 and are a registered voter, you’ll be eligible to vote early starting Monday, Sept. 14, for the special election to replace Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper). Read more about the race in this previous blog post, and check out profiles of the SD 30 candidates here on Teach the Vote.


FEDERAL UPDATE: In addition to the above-mentioned court ruling against Secretary Betsy DeVos’s effort to send more public money to private schools, there was activity on Capitol Hill this week. U.S. Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to advance a new coronavirus aid package that included a $10 billion private school voucher provision. ATPE released a press statement opposing the voucher language in the Senate bill, which failed during a preliminary vote held in the Senate yesterday. Read more about the legislation and ATPE’s press statement in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to take up hefty agenda items including the revision of science, physical education, and health curriculum standards (TEKS). The revisions garnered hours of testimony from the public, as did the discussion of eight new charter applications before the board.

ATPE and other organizations urged the board to reject the new charters due to the increased costs the state would incur by granting the applications. SBOE Member Ruben Cortez asked Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, “Is now the time to be playing Shark Tank?” Read this week’s blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins to learn more about Morath’s defense of the charter applicants, the board’s Thursday split decisions to preliminarily approve just six of the proposed charters, and the ultimate veto of three charter operators during Friday’s full board meeting.


Per usual, the annual Texas Tribune Festival has an impressive education strand of events. This week, Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel of Texas public school teachers, superintendents, and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The teachers expressed how the pandemic impacted their interactions with students, the superintendents talked about budget and enrollment concerns, and Morath stuck to his usual admiration of data and the need to continue standardized testing. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus incorporated ATPE recommendations regarding COVID-19 and schools into a letter it sent to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath earlier this week. The letter was influenced by a task force of education stakeholders including ATPE. Among other requests, the senators’ letter urges Morath to seek a waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements for 2020-21. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Did you know that high schools are legally required to offer students who will be age 18 by election day the opportunity to register to vote? In Texas, students may register to vote at 17 years 10 months. Students can print, fill out, and mail in an application obtained from VoteTexas.gov or fill out a voter registration application online and have it mailed to them.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has partnered with dosomething.org to create the “Democracy Powered by (You)th” voter registration competition. By doing things like racking up voter registrations, students can win scholarships, school grants, and trophies. Pace High School in Brownsville, TX is currently in third place!



Today we remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001. On that day, some of our members were in the classroom as teachers, while others were still just students themselves. On this Patriot Day, we honor the lives lost that day and the heroic efforts by first responders, service members, and citizens who risked their lives that day and in the aftermath of the tragedy. We will never forget.

From The Texas Tribune: Many Texas students will return to classrooms Tuesday. Little will be normal.

As students across Texas return to schools for in-person classes, there will be masks, distancing and lunches eaten at desks. Many students will remain at home, joining in on laptops and phones.

Students sit distanced from one another in the lunch room at Jacob’s Well Elementary School in Wimberley. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

On a normal first day of school, Texas children would wake up early to cram into school buses, eager to huddle and chat with their friends in the hallways before streaming toward their classrooms.

On Tuesday, as many of the state’s biggest urban and suburban districts return for their first day of in-person instruction, there is anxiety mingled with that excitement. Many parents will not be allowed to walk their kindergarteners inside for their first day. Teenagers will be shooed away if they congregate around their lockers. Meals will be grab-and-go, often eaten in classrooms instead of raucous cafeterias. Students and teachers will wear masks, trying to stay as far apart from one another as possible even as they come together for the first time in months.

Many kids will not be entering their schools at all. Some of the state’s biggest districts, including Houston and Dallas independent school districts, will not open their classrooms for in-person learning until late September or October, and they may even ask the state for more time if the virus isn’t under control.

In-person instruction will look very different from campus to campus. Some districts will bring students back in phases, starting with those who most need in-person education, like students with disabilities or those learning English. In San Antonio’s North East ISD, no more than five students will be in each classroom this week. Other districts are welcoming back all students who opted for in-person instruction at the same time.

Only about half of Seguin ISD’s students are expected to head into classrooms Tuesday morning for the first day of in-person instruction. They will walk past thermal scanners, which can measure the body temperature of about 30 people at a time and detect fevers that may be signs of illness. Middle and high school students will sit in desks spread apart, in many cases less than 6 feet with dividers, and younger students will be separated by dividers at large round tables.

Most teachers will be simultaneously instructing 12 to 16 students in their classrooms and more at home tuning in from cellphones or laptops. Some teachers will sit in empty classrooms and broadcast lessons to 20 or 30 students. A small number who have health conditions or young children received waivers to teach virtually from their homes.

“Things are ever changing. The one thing I’ve appreciated that stayed constant was the interest in students returning has been at 50%,” Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez said of his 7,200-student district east of San Antonio. “I believe that we can safely social distance at that number in our buildings.”

Parent interest in in-person instruction varies greatly across the state. In some hard-hit parts of the state, like Mercedes ISD in South Texas, the vast majority of parents are opting for virtual learning. In Texarkana’s Bowie County, where coronavirus cases have stayed relatively low, most Maud ISD parents have already sent their kids to school in person.

Local health authorities continue to clash with school districts over whether it’s safe to open, concerned that Labor Day festivities could lead to higher case numbers, as Memorial Day did this spring. Fort Bend County health officials sent Katy ISD a letter in late July urging it not to open classrooms or start extracurricular activities “before late September in the vast majority of cases,” until the “effect of the Labor Day holiday can be determined.”

Katy ISD, which has schools in Fort Bend, Harris and Waller counties, plans to reopen classrooms Tuesday.

When schools were forced by the pandemic to hurriedly switch to virtual learning in the spring, most Texas districts didn’t require teachers to conduct live virtual lessons, but more are attempting that type of instruction this year. That means many teachers will have to simultaneously instruct two groups of students: those in front of them, and those watching from their iPads and laptops.

In Seguin ISD, most of the lessons will also be recorded for students who couldn’t find time to log in and watch live, important in a district with 71% low-income students, Gutierrez said. “You have parents that have multiple jobs. They’re shift workers. To expect that our students are going to go through their entire day at home alongside the face-to-face learners is really unreasonable when they don’t have that support, that structure or that supervision at home. They would be missing out on instruction.”

He acknowledged that those students will be missing out on the benefits of live instruction: having a teacher correct their pronunciation of a challenging word or being able to ask questions about a complex math problem in real time.

Austin ISD starts virtually Tuesday and plans to open classrooms in early October. Eight-year-old Isla Arb will start third grade at Graham Elementary School online Tuesday and will continue virtually to avoid endangering her grandmother, who has cancer, said her mother, Katie Arb. Both Katie Arb and her husband work full time, so they hired another mother to watch Isla and her 4-year-old sibling on weekdays. They’re paying her about $15 per hour, as well as paid sick leave and vacation, replacing some of the pay she had received as a dental hygienist before the pandemic.

“The bulk of her responsibilities are going to be to keep the 4-year-old away from our 8-year-old,” Katie Arb said.

Isla is excited about getting to wear a unicorn onesie to virtual school every day at the messy desk in her bedroom. But she got quiet when she thought about her classmates and teachers returning to campus in October. “I don’t want them to get coronavirus,” she said sadly.

Even students who return to Austin ISD’s campuses will effectively be learning virtually. When she goes back to school in early October, Austin ISD high school theater teacher Rachel Seney will sit in a classroom, with a mask on, leading a virtual class through musical numbers or dramatic exercises. Students spread 6 feet apart will sit in front of her on their laptops, each one completing assignments or watching a different teacher deliver instruction.

Students will spend nearly the entire day, including lunch, in one classroom, a plan intended to reduce the public health risks during a pandemic. If one child or staff member gets infected, it will be easy to trace exactly who they were in contact with — meaning there’s no need to shut down entire campuses or districts.

Seney, who teaches at predominantly white and high-income Anderson High School, said she sees the model as more equitable since all students end up learning virtually in some way. “You’re not teaching equitably if you have some students in front of you and some students online. Now that some schools have started going back and are using that model, I’m already seeing it’s not happening,” she said. “It’s not really effective.”

Her sister Blair Seney will be doing just that at Cypress Falls High School in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, miles away in Harris County’s suburbs. A special education educator, she helps modify assignments or provide extra time on testing for students with disabilities alongside a primary classroom teacher.

“We’re expected to teach at the same time the kids that are in the classroom who don’t have access to technology and the students at home who are on the computer,” Blair Seney said. She has been a constant agitator for more safety requirements in schools and more flexibility for teachers terrified to return in person. In August, she stood in the back of a school board meeting with a sign that said, “Your attendance is required at my funeral,” while her mother, also a teacher at the school, spoke at the public hearing. That month, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD teachers unsuccessfully sued the district, asking not to be required to report to their campuses for training.

About 42% of students have decided to attend school in person, according to a district survey. Often, Blair Seney pulls students into her office, a tiny storage closet with no ventilation, for one-on-one assistance. “I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” she said. “It is definitely a thought that’s keeping me up at night, trying to figure out how we’re going to make all this work.”

Health precautions vary among districts and schools. Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, everyone over the age of 10 must wear a mask. But guidance from the Texas Education Agency leaves districts largely on their own to design protections against a virus that spreads undetected in as many as 40% of those who have it. In many districts, maintaining 6 feet of distance among students will simply not be possible.

“It’s very scattershot,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “There’s a huge variation in the policies that are being put in place within districts to protect the health and safety of educators, from physical structures to logistics to access to [personal protective equipment]. Absolutely there have been districts that say, ‘Here’s your two gloves and your mask, that’s all you’re getting.’”

In Houston-area Humble ISD, where kids have been back in classrooms since late August, “it has been surprisingly normal,” said Timbers Elementary School fifth grade teacher Stacey Ward. “Question mark?”

The 10- and 11-year-olds who tramp in for Ward’s science and social studies classes have been surprisingly compliant about wearing their masks, though she sometimes has to remind them, with a single word — “mask!” or “nose” — to ensure the fabric covers their noses, too. Every other student sits behind a plexiglass barrier, spaced out as far apart as possible, but with 18 to 20 students per class, it has not been possible to keep 6 feet among them.

Instruction stops five minutes early so kids can wipe down their desks. Ward collects their books at the end of the day. There is no sharing of supplies.

And Ward has made one more adjustment. Typically, when students enter or exit her classroom, they get three options: high-five, hug or handshake.

This year, she’s pivoted: “Now, it’s an elbow, a knee or a foot,” she said in a phone interview after her fourth day of in-person school. Elbow bumps are the runaway favorite.

Afterward, the students know to take a squirt of hand sanitizer. “It’s normal to them now,” she said.

ProPublica’s Mollie Simon contributed reporting.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article, “Many Texas students will return to classrooms Tuesday. Little will be normal.” 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.