Breaking Down TEA’s Back-to-School ‘Guidance’
The Texas Education Agency released its much anticipated guidelines for opening school campuses Tuesday, July 7. As Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said in his statement, TEA is acting intentionally or recklessly with gross negligence in rushing teachers, staff and students back into the classroom.
We will continue to fight for the safety and security of our members, and anything can change at any time. But here’s what we know right now about the state’s plans for the 2020-2021 school year.
In-Person and Remote Instruction
With no defined resources, training or extra funding for new educational requirements, the TEA plans to “re-engineer the school experience so students reach high academic outcomes, with the same or better proficiency in 2021 as they did pre-COVID.”
We know new models require training and resources. Texas AFT remains concerned that expectations for educators continue to rise ahead of the most challenging school year in modern history.
Included in the TEA’s guidance:
- On-campus instruction is required for every district in order to receive funding. Parents can choose between in-person or remote learning for their children. So all Texas school districts will have to provide remote and on-campus instruction for all grades every day — if they want to receive state funding for that remote learning.
- There are some exceptions. During the first three weeks of the school years, districts may limit access to on-campus instruction. Full remote instruction is also authorized for any day a campus is ordered closed, including for up to five days if a district closes because of a confirmed COVID-19 case on campus.
- Schools need a remote instruction plan for students without internet. Districts and teachers will need to have alternatives, like paper packets, for these students. The TEA pledges to work on a statewide plan for cheaper broadband and devices for families in need. But the state has failed at this for years.
Health and Safety Concerns
The TEA is promising step-by-step processes and templates for implementing public health guidance, including:
- guidance and contacts to facilitate work with local health authorities
- training for administrators on how to respond to a positive case
- exercises conducted with local health authorities to prepare for future positive cases
With school just a month away, this is ambitious. Other measures outlined in TEA’s guidelines, though, are not nearly ambitious enough.
- Masks for some. While Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order mandating masks applies to schools, it does not cover anyone under 10 years old, leaving elementary schools especially vulnerable. The TEA’s guidelines say school systems can require face masks or face shields for adults and students alike, but they leave the definition of “for whom it’s developmentally appropriate” up to the districts.
- Available personal protective equipment: The TEA will provide an initial supply of PPE for districts. This includes disposable masks, reusable masks, thermometers, hand sanitizer, gloves and face shields. You can see now what your district will get.
- Self-reporting for students and teachers. Every day before attending school on campus, students, teachers and visitors must answer screening questions.
- Suspected COVID-19 cases. The TEA’s guidance provides some mandates about how to handle suspected coronavirus cases. But much of the information is vague and impossible to implement without further information from the state.
What to Watch For
In its guidelines, the TEA stresses the importance of students learning in the classroom. But while the agency cites the American Academy of Pediatrics, it ignores the CDC’s warning of the increased risks of in-person instruction for children who are medically complex.
Already we’ve seen what happens when we rush kids to classroom settings with the runaway spread of COVID-19 in Texas daycares.
- Districts should plan for contingencies — and expect to use them. The guidance from the TEA itself states, “There will almost certainly be situations that necessitate temporary school closure due to positive COVID-19 cases in schools.”
- Suggested, not required, hygiene practices. The TEA has listed several encouragements when it comes to slowing the spread of disease in schools, but they haven’t mandated any measures to keep children and teachers safe. While they suggest extra cleaning, they also haven’t guaranteed additional resources to custodians.
- Keep your eye on your duty-free lunch. The TEA suggests school systems consider practices that keep students out of close contact with others, including “having students eat lunch at their desks.” Other suggestions include dividers between sinks and cafeteria tables.
- Training is supposedly on the way. The TEA says it will provide virtual training on remote instruction and responding to trauma, beginning sometime in July.
To see the TEA’s “guidance” for yourself, check out the documents provided by the state so far: