Texas school districts must offer in-person classes to students this fall, the Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath released new guidance about how schools should plan to welcome back students for the next school year.

It’s the clearest guidance yet about how school districts should plan to welcome students back to classrooms for the first time since COVID-19 closed school buildings across the state in March.

But although districts will be expected to have students in class, the guidelines also allow for parents to opt their children out of attending school in person and acknowledge the virus likely will be spreading in some places come August.

“There will almost certainly be situations that necessitate temporary school closure due to positive COVID-19 cases in schools,” the agency’s plan stated. “Parents, educators and school administrators should be prepared for this in the event that it occurs, while actively working to prevent it through prevention and mitigation practices.”

The guidelines were published with little public fanfare about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Along with requiring schools be be open for in-person instruction, the agency will require school systems to post their full reopening plans one week prior to restarting instruction.

REQUIREMENTS

Students will be required to attend 90 percent of class days to receive credit for a course but can receive credit for attending classes online. Teachers and school staff must screen themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and report possible infections to their schools.

School staff and students who are confirmed to have COVID-19, or who show symptoms, must stay home throughout the infection period and cannot return to school until three days after their symptoms subside.

If an infection is confirmed in a person who has been inside a school, districts must close off sections of the school “heavily used” by that person.

The guidelines don’t explicitly require students and staff to wear mask, but schools must comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s regarding face masks in public places.

In a conference call with Texas superintendents, Morath said that rule means face masks will be mandatory in many places this fall.

“Consistent with the executive order, masks are required in schools for the duration of the executive order,” Morath said in the phone call, according to the Texas Tribune. “It’s likely the executive order will be modified over time. As it does, our guidance will be modified.”

In the statewide order issued on July 2, Abbott ordered people living in counties with more than 20 coronavirus cases to wear face masks in buildings open to the public, whenever social distancing isn’t possible. Abbott’s order includes an exception for children who are younger than 10 years old, meaning younger students in school will not necessarily be required to wear masks.

Abbott’s order doesn’t have an expiration date.

School districts also can individually decide to require masks “for adults or students for whom it is developmentally appropriate,” according to the agency’s guidelines.

‘FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY’

In a joint statement issued after the release of the guidelines, state Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, lauded the guidelines for including “the freedom and flexibility to operate in the best way for their local communities.”

“At the end of the day, parents have the final decision on whether or not their children return to campus,” the statement said. “As parents ourselves, we understand how critical it is for our students to get back to some sort of normalcy and resume their education, and appreciate TEA offering this guidance.”

Locally, educators and officials on school boards still were digesting what the newest guidelines meant for plans they had been working on in preparation for the school year.

The agency’s guidelines appeared to be in line with what Galveston Independent School had planned, said Tony Brown, the chairman of the Galveston Independent School District Board of Trustees.

One difficulty still facing school districts is the deadline by which parents have to decide whether their students seek in-person or virtual instruction. That decision isn’t binding until two weeks before school begins, Brown said. That makes resource allocation extremely difficult, he said.

“I personally believe that the key to success on the campuses will be strict compliance, with zero tolerance for violations,” Brown said. “We must do that to protect our teachers and employees. To do any less risks the health and even the lives of our teachers and other employees and their families, which is unacceptable.”

The guidelines are likely to draw more objections in coming days. Hours before Morath released them, the Texas State Teachers Association urged state leaders to slow down their decision-making plans.

“Texas obviously has not seen the end of this pandemic, and no one knows what August, the normal start of the fall semester, will bring,” association President Noel Candelaria said. “Regardless of the date, no school must reopen until the pandemic has clearly begun to subside and strict safety standards are in place for that campus, including required mask use for students, employees and visitors; regular testing of everyone entering the school for COVID symptoms; and strict social distancing in classrooms and other locations.”

The agency’s guidelines require none of those things.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(22) comments

Ted Gillis

What about private schools? They should be mandated too.

Bailey Jones

Meanwhile Trump threatens to defund schools that don't swing his way.

"In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!"

I'll also point out that "in Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries" effective leadership has managed to get the curve under control - with new cases declining. Even the worst of these, Sweden, has managed a decline in the last couple of weeks. But not in Trump's America - it's still up, up, up!

Carlos Ponce

Leadership. Europe follows their leaders. The American Left follows the Leftist pundits and news.

jimmy winston

Well I would like to think that the leaders in most European countries actually believe in the Science and aren't failed businessmen and reality TV stars

Jim Forsythe

If Trump is in charge, he gets the blame for what has happened with Covid19. If you think someone else is responsible, then they are in charge of shoring up because of a lack of leadership.

Trump has yet to set a plan on how all the USA should respond. A true leader would layout, this is how we will handle this. A true leader when saying we should wear masks would also wear one. Leading by example is one of the important traits of a true leader.

All he has done so far is say, States you are on your own,.

He kept pushing the opening of Florida, Texas, Arizona, and now they are all in trouble.

He said it will "It will go away, just stay calm. At a rally in New Hampshire, he said that the virus will be gone by April.

President Trump told the country there were only 15 cases of coronavirus in the US, and “within a couple days [it is] going to be down to close to zero.”

Yesterday we had over 60,000 cases, which are a new one day record. This will be broken many times in the near future. The death total keeps increasing(133,803) and will do so until a vaccine is on the market.

With all that is going on, he threatens school districts that they will lose funding if they do not do as he is demanding.

Carlos Ponce

"President Trump told the country there were only 15 cases of coronavirus in the US" WRONG!!!!!

Jim, that's not true. He was talking about 15 infected in Washington State, ONLY THOSE 15!!!!!!!!!!

"Of the 15 people — the 'original 15,' as I call them — 8 of them have returned to their homes, to stay in their homes until fully recovered. One is in the hospital and five have fully recovered. And one is, we think, in pretty good shape and it’s in between hospital and going home."

"And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done."

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-vice-president-pence-members-coronavirus-task-force-press-conference/

NOWHERE does Trump say there "were only 15 cases of coronavirus in the US". You're WRONG!

Joe Mancuso

And, once again, Carlos is cherrypicking data.

From the same article he cited at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-vice-president-pence-members-coronavirus-task-force-press-conference/

Carlos conveniently left out the following statements that were made right before the one he quoted.

"As most of you know, the — the level that we’ve had in our country is very low, and those people are getting better, or we think that in almost all cases they’re better, or getting. We have a total of 15. We took in some from Japan — you heard about that — because they’re American citizens, and they’re in quarantine. And they’re getting better too."

I think it's very clear that he is referring to a total of 15 in the United States.

Nowhere in this entire transcript is Washington State mentioned.

Again, Carlos, not even a good try.

Carlos Ponce

"I think it's very clear that he is referring to a total of 15 in the United States." o, you are reading your own interpretation adding something that is not there, a common trait among Liberals.

Ted Gillis

At this rate we will run out of new people to infect by fall. Crisis solved!

Jim Forsythe

Part of the problem is, no one knows exactly what will happen. Several things to look at.

No one can be sure how efficient the vaccine will be. First is the vaccine's efficacy -- for example, the measles vaccine is 97-98% effective. Dr. Fauci believes that for COVID-19, we are unlikely to get a vaccine that is more than 75% effective. Corna19 could be between 75% and 98%.

How many will get the vaccine? With the anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country what percent of the USA will get vaccinated?

This is another issue. An executive at AstraZeneca, one of the companies working to develop an effective vaccine, told a radio station that he thinks his vaccine might only offer protection for one year. If this is so, we will get a new round of Corna19, year after year like the flu.

Antibodies may not last long. There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection. This is one thing I hope is false.

What is the infection rate? No one knows for sure. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams recently advised a leading national physicians' organization that the U.S. is far from reaching the 70%+ infection rate needed to begin having a real discussion about herd immunity. For reference, Adams mentioned his home state of Indiana was currently at an approximate 3% infection rate.

Carlos Ponce

Those that fear infection have some other health problem, Ted. No joking matter.

Ted Gillis

If the president can joke, so can I.

Carlos Ponce

The president's jokes are funny. Yours are not.

By the way, I heard about your moniker - "Two Vote Ted". Now that's hilarious!

Jim Forsythe

Please share some of Trumps jokes that are funny.

Bailey Jones

I have the book "Obama: An Intimate Portrait" by former White House photographer, Pete Souza. Sometimes I just need to flip through it and remember when we had presidents who laughed, and joked with their kids and staff, and loved their wives, and were capable of expressing non-reptile emotions.

Carlos Ponce

Trump's joke:“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Hillary thought it was so funny she repeated it with a few modifications: "China, if you're listening, why don't you get Trump's tax returns?”

The hilarity is in the presentation. Look up the videos and you can tell each is joking.

Doug Sivyer

Asinine decision by the school commissioner but expected as we have an ignorant buffoon at the helm in Washington DC. This is his reckless agenda. A recipe for disaster. If we had the virus spread under control it would be a different story but we DO NOT!

Carlos Ponce

If you protect the vulnerable, it is under control. The average child may contract the disease with little to no symptoms. Parents know which of their children do not fall into this category.

Joe Mancuso

I have a question that I haven't seen addressed yet and, yes, it's very possible that I've just missed it.

Many are saying that it's safe to open schools in part because kids are not good transmitters of the virus.

My question is how do they know this? Haven't most kids been stuck at home for the last 3-4 months? How can they say that kids aren't good transmitters if the kids aren't coming into contact with anyone to catch it from or transmit it to?

Am I missing something?

Bailey Jones

There's not a lot of science on COVID since it's a brand new disease. But since it's also a world wide disease, there is beginning to be a good deal of study based on what different countries have tried and what has / hasn't worked. For instance, there's a good bit of observational science now about the efficacy of wearing masks and social distancing. Last week an article came out in Science Magazine that addresses your questions. Like masks, there are a number of examples of good practices around the world that we can learn from.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks

Ted Gillis

Carlos, “Two Vote Ted” is not a joke. It actually happened. Also, I’m pretty good friends now with the guy I beat.

So back on topic: Who do we listen to for pandemic advice now that the White House has discredited Dr. Fauci?

Carlos Ponce

Everybody in the room laughed when they heard the story of "Two Vote Ted".

The White House has NOT discredited Dr. Fauci. The President has mentioned the doctor has not always been accurate.

January 21, 2020: “But, this [COVID 19] is not a major threat for the people of the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.”

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