New state COVID-19 guidance and waffling on previous rules could force remote students back to campus

Two new troubling pieces of state COVID-19 guidance have emerged that could end up forcing remote students back to face-to-face instruction and endangering families susceptible to the coronavirus. Last week, the Texas Education Agency amended its guidance on remote students to allow districts to set criteria on grades and attendance.

Districts may now enact policies that remove students from remote instruction, for example, if they don’t have a grade of 70 in a class or have three unexcused absences. (District can tweak numbers, such as setting the grade mark at 68.) Word from several big urban districts is that they will not be using this option, and it’s too early to know how many districts try to take that course. Parents can seek an exemption by getting a statement from a doctor outlining medical conditions that would put the student at risk.

The other disturbing trend is districts getting rid of remote instruction altogether, usually for logistical and economical reasons (although some claim their students are in need of more intensive face-to-face instruction). Districts can do this because the TEA guidance for returning to a new school year states parents have the right to remote instructions, with a caveat that only if the district offered that instruction. New guidance made it clear that offering remote was not required.

The problem with both of these decisions from the state is that it communicated to the public from the beginning that parents would have a right to keep their kids remote. Parents had a choice. Clearly, the state is eroding that choice, and an effort to preserve that choice for the safety of the student and their family will require a burden of proof in a medical attestation — possibly an expensive one for those without health insurance. Texas AFT will continue to monitor the impact of these two ill-advised policies from TEA.