The Texas Education Agency has issued new guidelines that allow school districts in areas with spiking COVID-19 cases to request a waiver to continue online instruction beyond the maximum eight weeks initially offered by the TEA. The change is a nod to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order excluding Laredo, Victoria and the Rio Grande Valley from the latest round of business reopenings.
One Texas teachers’ union is welcoming the news while another wants the state to go further.
“We are appreciative that state officials are responding positively to the thousands of our school employee members lighting up the switchboards and inboxes of the governor and education commissioner asking for common-sense measures to keep our communities safe in pandemic hot spots,” said Zeph Capo, Texas American Federation of Teachers president.
“The state must stop tweaking waiver guidelines for selected counties during a dangerous health emergency and give every school district in Texas the authority to conduct only distance learning for the remainder of the fall semester without a funding penalty,” Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement. “The entire state is still a COVID trouble spot.”
Both unions are in agreement on the need for more safety measures in schools. A TSTA survey found more than 4,000 violations of COVID-19 safety standards and recommended employee policies in more than 140 schools. The problems include lack of social distancing and proper ventilation and mask violations.
Capo said another new TEA provision related to which students count as being present for on-campus instruction is of grave concern and threatens the planning of our large urban districts.
“TEA is moving the bar again, complicating the best efforts of districts trying to put safety measures in place,” he said. “Morath’s compulsion to put more and more students on campuses won’t fit the plans of districts that don’t have the space to accommodate these students safely with social distancing.”
Under the rule, students who are attending classes on campus would not be counted for funding purposes unless there is a qualified teacher or aide present in the classroom with them. Capo said that will force districts to return to face-to-face instruction faster. Just like students who are learning from home, many teachers are providing instruction remotely.
Since the start of the school year, there have been 3,445 student cases of COVID-19 and 2,850 cases among staff members.