This week’s news includes election analysis, ATPE’s updated recommendations for safely reopening schools, and a key announcement from the state today giving districts slightly more flexibility to operate virtually at the beginning of the school year. Read about these developments and more in this week’s wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.
- ATPE offers plan for safely reopening schools, shares advocacy tools
- CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: New reopening guidance offered by TEA
- ELECTION UPDATE: Primary runoff election results are in!
- FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE meets with congressional delegation, and CDC encounters push-back on issuing advice for reopening schools
- TRS board meets this week, discusses budgeting, health insurance, and more
- SBEC to consider relief for Legacy Master Teachers at its meeting next week
This week, ATPE released an updated set of comprehensive recommendations for reopening schools that prioritize safety, the involvement of educators and parents in decision making, and local flexibility. The ATPE plan calls for the state to develop a framework using objective medical data such as the test positivity rate, hospitalizations, or newly confirmed COVID-19 cases as potential gating criteria for decisions on when it is safe to reopen schools for in-person instruction. In a statement, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes said the framework will “minimize the risk of hasty reopening decisions based on politics, rather than prioritizing the health and safety of students and school employees.” In our recommendations, ATPE also urges the state to suspend standardized testing in the 2020-21 school year, as urged by the ATPE House of Delegates last week. These recommendations were sent in a letter to Governor Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
Read more about the ATPE proposal in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. ATPE members can use our premier advocacy tool Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding the ATPE plan for reopening and other concerns they may have with regard to the return to school.
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Last week’s release of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) public health guidance left educators wanting more specificity and clarity on the health and safety aspects of the return to in-person instruction this fall. This week, snippets of new information indicating a relaxation of in-person schooling requirements trickled through news outlets, based on interviews with the governor and TEA officials. Today the agency posted more official guidance on its website, along with a press release and video by Commissioner Mike Morath.
As foreshadowed in reporting by the Texas Tribune, the new public health guidance that TEA issued today enables districts to operate virtually for the first four weeks of school (instead of three), with an additional four weeks of transition possible under local school board decision-making authority and a waiver from the state. A caveat to this new flexibility is that districts must provide in-person instruction to any student who does not have Internet access or the devices necessary to participate in virtual instruction, even during the transition period. Additionally, under the new TEA guidance districts can offer a hybrid instructional model for high school students only in order to stagger the number of students on campus at any given time. Read more about today’s developments in this blog post on Teach the Vote.
Updates to TEA’s COVID-19 Support and Guidance Page this week included additional updates to the public health orders page regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and distribution and a document outlining the informal selection process for symptom-screening mobile and web-based applications that districts may use. Updates to instructional continuity included new operation connectivity resources, sample school instructional models, and new Texas Home Learning resources. The waivers, finance, and grants page was updated with information about new federal funding, the CARES Act, and equitable services FAQs. The TEA website also added new information for the high school hybrid waiver and extended transition period waiver announced today, and updates to the attendance and enrollment FAQ to reflect the changes shared today. The Texas educators support page was also updated with an FAQ document about leave and resignation.
As educators learn of their district’s plans, they frequently have questions regarding their health and safety and professional rights and responsibilities. Visit the ATPE COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for the constantly updated resources and answers to common questions.
ELECTION UPDATE: Texas voters decided primary runoff races across Texas this week, leading to some surprise wins and losses. Turnout in runoff elections is typically low, but this year’s runoffs saw higher turnout than in previous years. While Election Day turnout wasn’t immediately available, turnout data during early voting showed a significant increase in participation — though still far from the numbers we see during the November elections. Read a full rundown on this week’s election results in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
FEDERAL UPDATE: Vice President Mike Pence last week indicated the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would be issuing new school reopening guidelines today, but the federal health agency now says it expects to release those new guidelines by the end of this month. On Capitol Hill, the House Education and Labor Committee has planned a July 23 hearing of its Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee to examine recommendations for safely reopening schools. The committee asked CDC Director Robert Redfield to testify at the hearing, but media reports out of Washington late today say the White House will prohibit Redfield from appearing at the meeting.
ATPE State President Tonja Gray and Vice President Jimmy Lee participated in virtual meetings this week with some of the Texas congressional delegation, including members of the House education committee. In addition to discussing school reopening concerns and the need for more federal funding to help schools deal with COVID-19, ATPE also urged the congressmen to take needed action on Social Security reform and replacing the harmful Windfall Elimination Provision. Additional meetings are scheduled for next week.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the White House are continuing to push for in-person instruction in the fall. DeVos spoke with both CNN and Fox News this week and reiterated previous sentiments that the CDC guidelines for reopening were flexible and that states should expand school choice. To CNN, DeVos said, “There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them,” which is contrary to data that shows children are being infected by COVID-19. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, often cited by President Trump, DeVos, and TEA as an authority on handling the return to school, has joined national education groups in recommending that reopening be subject to the advice of local health experts.
The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees convened virtually this week for its regularly scheduled meeting. The board discussed a number of agenda items including the current financial market in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, TRS-Care and ActiveCare, the fiscal year 2021 budget, highlights of the agency’s preliminary legislative appropriations request, and updated considerations on TRS space planning. View board materials and archived video of the three-day meeting here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for a blog post coming soon with additional highlights of the meeting.
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will meet next Friday, July 24, to take up an agenda that includes implementation of the new Science of Teaching Reading exam requirements from last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 and a discussion of COVID-19 considerations related to certification. Additionally, the agenda includes a proposed rule that would remove the expiration date on the Legacy Master Teacher certificates. This change, heavily pushed for by ATPE, will protect Legacy Master Teacher certificate holders from the unintended consequences of HB 3, which repealed the authorization for Master Teacher certificates and barred them from being renewed. Check back on Teach the Vote next week for an update on the meeting.