November 19, 2020: TRS retiree health premiums stay the same, but check needed on providers; Legislators want to cancel STAAR; SBOE fails again on Sex Ed

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We will not be publishing a Hotline next week, so we wish you a safe and happy holiday!

Bipartisan effort by majority of legislators takes aim at killing the STAAR test this year

Image of LetterThis past week, more than half the legislators in the Texas House signed onto an open letter sent by Rep. Diego Bernal that calls on Education Commissioner Mike Morath to suspend the administration of the STAAR test this year. The group of 68 representatives that signed on to the letter is made up of both Democrats and Republicans. Numerous other Representatives and Senators have sent their own letters calling for stalls in the administration of the STAAR test this year.

In a year that has been anything but standard, it is unfair to measure our students’ achievement against typical testing standards. The Texas Education Agency and Morath have long recognized the COVID-Slide as a real phenomenon, but only to argue for the reopening of schools, which puts teachers and students at risk. Even with COVID-19 cases spiking across Texas, TEA continues to push forward with plans to administer high-stakes testing this year. Texas AFT continues to call for the TEA to suspend the STAAR test — and all associated high-stakes — for the 2020-2021 school year.


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SBOE fails our schoolchildren again

Board refuses to add language to Health curriculum on sexual consent and making schools inclusive

Screen with edited sex ed education writing.The SBOE wrangled over Health curriculum on sex education this week.

After hearing from hundreds of witnesses at meetings in June and September, the State Board of Education (SOBE) Wednesday voted down proposed changes to draft health standards that would have taught students about their ability to consent or not to consent to sexual activity. Proposed changes would have also stressed respect for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and would have clearly addressed anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.

It was the first review of Health curriculum for Texas students in almost two decades, and the board failed at this opportunity to provide a safe learning environment for students and teach them how to protect themselves from sexual assault. The board repeatedly rejected language offered by members like Ruben Cortez, who simply wanted to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the curriculum about bullying.

The SBOE made this decision in spite of the fact that research shows that nearly 60% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and nearly 45% because of their gender expression. Polling in Texas this year also shows that 75% of registered voters, including 65% of Republicans, agree that “to help prevent bullying of LGBTQ youth, Texas public schools should include standards around cultivating respect for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity.”

Children deserve to learn in a healthy and safe environment that is inviting and inclusive to all. While we are sadly disappointed in this outcome, we are encouraged that some of the current SBOE members will be replaced by newly-elected board members that will be sworn in at the board’s January meeting. We are hopeful that new board members, many of them supported by Texas AFT, will be more likely to put facts and science ahead of politics and ideology.

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TEA posts new rules on remote instruction and what districts must do to maintain funding

In national news, CDC removes content originally urging the reopening of schools

Amidst a flurry of some districts closing campuses and even going back to remote instructionTEA Logo district-wide, the Texas Education Agency this week clarified its rules for what districts must do to maintain state funding during the pandemic.

The new rules state that when districts conclude a “back-to-school transition period or transition period extension, all students who wish to attend on campus must be allowed back on campus, even if the end of the transition period does not correspond to the beginning of a grading period.” However, districts can make students who initially chose remote instruction continue it until a new grading period starts.

TEA also states that districts not in compliance with its rules will only get half of the instructional minutes they would normally get–meaning they would risk losing funding if they don’t add additional days on their school calendars. TEA did, however, set a new rule that allows districts to go back to remote instruction for up to two weeks if staffing campuses is impossible because of COVID-19 issues. One caveat is that districts still must provide on-site instruction for students lacking the technology devices needed for remote learning.

Meanwhile, at the national level, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) quietly removed a statement from its website that originally stressed “the importance of reopening America’s schools.” This statement was released in July of 2020 after the Trump administration threatened to take away funding from schools if they did not reopen. Also disappearing from the website was language that minimized the risk of reopenings, such as: “Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low….Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed.”

Some have questioned whether the agency decided to remove the statement due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, and whether it could have been a result of pushback from CDC staff upset that the original language was written by political appointees pushing the president’s agenda. The statements were believed to be removed before November 3, prior to the election of Joe Biden, who has stressed he intends on following a scientific, centralized approach to controlling the virus.

Throughout the pandemic, CDC has continuously added new guidelines to its website

for schools. For instance, in September, it created a color-coded chart with health indicators that described the level of risk in school buildings. Last week, CDC released more guidance for school nurses. This past Monday, November 16, it updated school guidelines on quarantining students exposed to COVID-19.

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No premium increases for TRS retiree health premiums next year

But change in plan requires you to check provider coverage


TRS-CARE logoThe Teachers Retirement System of Texas (TRS) recently announced that TRS-Care will have no premium increases next year. Prescription drug benefits will also remain at the same level.

Another noteworthy change announced by TRS was that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) will be administering the TRS-Care Standard medical plan. Most providers will be covered by the new plan, but check the BCBSTX website to ensure your provider is on the list. All changes to TRS-Care will take effect on January 1, 2021. For a full overview of the changes, see the TRS website.

TRS will also be launching a new quarterly webinar series to explain the changes to TRS-Care as well as explaining the substantive differences between TRS-Care and Medicare and how to maximize both if you are eligible for both. The next webinar will be on December 4 from 1-3:30 pm Central Time, and you can register here.

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Protect Students GraphicOn Wednesdays, we wear red!

Turn your social media channels red each Wednesday in support of educators and students. Our goal is to show our numbers across platforms and to push local leaders and elected officials to show their support too.

While we’ve seen some districts and counties delay start dates for in-person instruction and move closer to our common sense plan for safe school reopenings, there’s still work to do this back-to-school season.

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Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.