The Texas Education Agency’s new guidelines for students to return to school campuses gives parents options, but some advocates for Texas teachers say that the directives don’t give teachers enough choices or protections.
Parents will decide whether their children go to school in person or online in the 2020-21 school year. The guidelines that the TEA released Tuesday also include health and safety measures, including wearing masks. Masks will be required while in school buildings — except for children under 10 — which is consistent with the governor’s most recent executive order. However, Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Tuesday, “it’s likely the executive order will be modified over time. As it does, our guidance will be modified.”
“The TEA guidelines don’t go far enough to assure safety for students and educators,” said Clay Robison, Texas State Teachers Association spokesman. “We believe that the teachers of young children should be allowed to decide whether they want their students to wear masks. All older students, employees and everyone else on a school campus will be required to wear masks, under the governor’s order now in place, and we support that.”
He said that as parents can choose whether to have their children taught remotely, teachers should have the choice as well.
“Teachers who fear they will compromise their health by returning to campus also should have the choice of teaching remotely, and it doesn’t look like TEA guidelines will require that. We also urge the governor and TEA to slow down. Schools should not reopen in August if the pandemic is still near the level of intensity that it is now.”
Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo also is concerned about the combination of Texas’ increase in COVID-19 cases plus the prospect of students and staffers returning to schools.
“TEA leadership is acting intentionally or recklessly with gross negligence by issuing guidance that does not take into account the fact that much of Texas is experiencing substantial community spread. Under such circumstances, the CDC recommends extended school dismissals,” Capo said. “Our students and teachers deserve a state agency that places their safety above all else.”
The federation took issue Tuesday with a TEA statement.
“TEA also needs to abandon, or at least put into context, its message that returning to campuses at this point will be safe because ‘relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized or have severe symptoms.’ The problem with this stance is that it still puts adults — our school employees, parents, and the overall community at significant risk — while also ignoring the enormity of the numbers of students and adults returning to school. Low percentages still can turn into big numbers in these situations, as was seen recently with the rapid spread resulting in hundreds of new cases reported in Texas daycare centers in late June,” a new release said.
One Texas labor union has responded to the TEA guidance by saying it is too soon to return to campuses. Education Austin, a labor union for certified and classified employees of the Austin Independent School District, posted a petition on Wednesday on Facebook.
“We need to stop the return of on-campus learning until public health data shows it is safe for students, families, teachers, and school employees,” the union said. “We call on AISD to hold all lessons virtually for the first nine weeks of the school year.”
The Texas Public Charter Schools Association responded positively to the TEA announcement, according to Vice President of Policy & Advocacy Brian Whitley.
“Public charter school leaders appreciate the flexibility TEA has provided for instruction. We advocated for the freedom to offer multiple options — including a hybrid approach with some in-person learning and some remote learning — because parents overwhelmingly told us they need those choices. This guidance allows our schools to quickly craft plans that will address the individual needs of every family,” the association said Wednesday in a statement.