Tag Archives: reopening

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 24, 2020

With the start of school just around the corner, it’s been another busy week for ATPE and the education community. Read about this week’s developments below from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: ATPE’s incoming State Vice President Karen Hames and Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell spoke on CNN’s Chris Cuomo Prime Time show Thursday night, July 23, to contribute their perspectives on school reopening. Hames and Mitchell stressed that teachers care about their kids and want to be in school with them, but that educators have concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus in a classroom setting. Hames shared reasons why school choice would not provide any real solutions to parents’ concerns about COVID-19, and Mitchell emphasized the need for additional federal funding and better guidance at the state level to help school districts prepare for reopening amid the pandemic. Watch video of the CNN segment here.

In other news related to COVID-19, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) released a long-awaited announcement this week that delays the schedules of 5A-6A conferences. Additionally, UIL shares that marching band practice in all conferences may not begin until September 7, 2020. Updates to TEA’s COVID-19 Support and Guidance Page this week included a new summary of the agency’s reopening guidance, several new “Strong Start” resources, and new CARES Act and attendance and enrollment information.

Visit the ATPE COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for constantly updated resources and answers to common questions from educators. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding school reopening and other issues.


This week, ATPE submitted formal public comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) interim final rule directing how districts spend their CARES Act federal emergency dollars on equitable services for students in private schools. The interim final rule, effective July 1, 2020, is estimated to cause public school districts to spend over $44 million of their Title I-derived emergency funds on private school students regardless of poverty — more than $38 million more than they would normally spend under the longstanding interpretation of equitable services in federal law. ATPE’s comments urge the department to rescind its inequitable and distorted interpretation of the CARES Act, which goes against congressional intent. Over 5,200 comments have been submitted, but the department is not required to respond to them because of the emergency rulemaking process. Read more about the new federal rule in this recent Teach the Vote blog post. Read ATPE’s public comments here.


ELECTION UPDATE: Last week saw one of the most unusual elections in recent memory: A runoff postponed due to a global pandemic that proceeded to intensify in Texas as the new election date approached. Early voting was expanded from the usual one week to two weeks in order to reduce the load on polling locations. Some voters also took advantage of alternative methods of casting their ballots to avoid contracting COVID-19 at the polls, although Texas broke ranks with other parts of the country by refusing to expand the ability to vote by mail amid the pandemic. Despite the failure of lawsuits aimed at expanding mail-in ballot options, Texas saw a substantial increase in mail-in voting during this runoff election, which caused official results to be delayed by a few days but did not result in changes to any of the unofficial race outcomes revealed on election night. The July 14 election also exposed troubling voting issues that will have to be corrected before the November election.

With double the time to vote early, this month’s runoffs saw double the turnout over the primary runoff elections in 2018, 6.61% to 3.22%, respectively. After all of the debate over voting by mail, 30% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans who voted early cast their ballots by mail. That’s actually down from 36% of all early voters who cast mail-in ballots in the 2018 runoffs. Democrats had a huge turnout — nearly 956,000 voted in the primary runoffs, but comparable statewide numbers aren’t available for Republican turnout because there wasn’t a statewide GOP runoff like there was on the Democrats’ ballot. Party turnout in primary elections is not always an accurate predictor of turnout in the general election. But based on the turnout for a runoff election in July, in the Texas heat, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, it’s probably safe to assume that overall turnout for the November general election will be enormous. That makes researching candidates and making your voting plan for November more important than ever! See more election results in last week’s recap by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


CONGRESSIONAL UPDATE: The U.S. House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education met Thursday, July 23, for a hearing on the safe reopening of schools. The discussion bounced back and forth between the health risks for children and health risks for teachers and staff, with implications across the board for future funding to get schools on the path to a safe reopening. Get the full rundown on the meeting in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

While a proposal for additional federal emergency aid (dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions or “HEROES” Act) was approved by the U.S. House several weeks ago, the U.S. Senate has now agreed on its own $105 billion aid package for education, which includes $70 billion for K-12 schools. The proposal would tie the K-12 funding to in-person instruction by sending $35 billion to schools that open for in-person instruction and splitting the remaining $35 billion among all schools, regardless of their method of instruction. The $30 billion for colleges will not be tied to in-person instruction, and governors will receive the last $5 billion to spend on either K-12 or higher education. The details of the proposal are expected to be made public on Monday.



After a week-long delay, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released updated guidance for the reopening of public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The brunt of the new guidance issued last night, July 23, consists of justifying the push to reopen schools for in-person instruction. New items include recommending that schools group students and teachers into isolated cohorts or “pods” meant to limit in-person contact. There is also a checklist intended to assist parents in deciding  whether to send their children to school. A new mask guidance document suggests masks can be worn by anyone older than two years old, though some groups of students may need special adaptations and alternatives. Even as the guidance encourages reopening, it urges caution to those considering to do so in areas of substantial, uncontrolled transmission. Furthermore, the guidance recommends tying operational decisions to local epidemiological conditions. The guidance states as follows:

“Schools should be prepared for COVID-19 cases and exposure to occur in their facilities. Collaborating with local health officials will continue to be important once students are back to school, as they can provide regular updates about the status of COVID-19 in the community and help support and maintain the health and wellbeing of students, teachers, and staff.”

All of the CDC guidance documents, including the latest guidance as well as recommendations dating back to May, can be found here.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today, July 24, to take action on several items implementing the Science of Teaching Reading exam requirements from last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 and to discuss COVID-19 considerations related to certification. Additionally, the board approved a proposal to transition Legacy Master Teacher certificate holders into lifetime certificates, as HB 3 barred the Master Teacher certificate from being issued or renewed. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified before SBEC in support of this proposal, continuing our months-long advocacy for a fix for Master Teachers. Read more about today’s SBEC meeting in this blog post from Chevalier and read the written testimony here.


SCHOOL FINANCE UPDATE: Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar created buzz this week with the release of his certification revenue estimate, which shows that the state faces a $4.6 billion deficit due to both COVID-19 and the largest drop in oil prices in decades. While some revenue sources have helped to soften the blow, including federal coronavirus aid and new revenue from online commerce, the uncertainties ahead will make the state budget lawmakers’ top concern in the upcoming 2021 legislative session. Read more about the revenue esimate and Hegar’s interview with the Texas Tribune this week in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.  

In other school finance news, Just Fund It, a non-partisan group of parents, students, and community members across Texas advocating for increased public school funding, has begun a petition aimed at urging Gov. Abbott to ensure stable and predictable school funding. Specifically, the petition asks the governor to extend the 12-week “hold harmless” period for calculating funding based on attendance as recently announced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the coming school year. The group presents a compelling argument for extending the hold harmless to cover the entire 2020-21 school year.

Congressional panel discusses school reopening, safety considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATPE releases plan with new recommendations for reopening schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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