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From The News-Courier staff—
The Texas Education Agency’s guidelines for next school year regarding COVID-19 precautions places the majority of the decision-making burden on local school districts.
“Changes to the public health situation over the course of the summer may necessitate changes to this guidance,” the TEA said in a press release.
Districts are reviewing what the TEA has presented and will be releasing more detailed plans in the coming days.
TEA’s guidance was broken into four main areas: provide notice, prevent, respond and mitigate. But even with all of the recommendations in place, the state acknowledges that these efforts may not always be enough to keep schools open, the guidelines state.
“There will almost certainly be situations that necessitate temporary school closure due to positive COVID-19 cases in schools,” according to the guidelines. “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.”
One week before on-campus instruction and activities are to start, schools are required to post a summary of their plans for the year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 based on the guidelines provided by the TEA. However, the plans are not subject to approval from any government agency.
Face coverings will be included in the plans. “Schools are required to comply with the governor’s executive order regarding the wearing of masks,” the guidelines state. “In addition to the executive order, school systems may require the use of masks or face shields for adults or students for whom it is developmentally appropriate.”
Districts have two options of offering virtual instructions and both require attendance be taken for funding purposes. Students must attend 90 percent of the days a course if offered, with some exceptions, in order to be given credit or to move to the next grade,
Districts have the option of using the first three weeks of school as a transition period, offering remote instruction, as they implement the plans they create based on the new guidelines.
District teachers and staff will be required to self-screen before going back to school, including taking their own temperatures. Districts can only ask teachers and staff to answer “yes” or “no” to the overall statement that they are symptomatic. Districts cannot ask specific questions about symptoms or collect health information during the screening. Any staff with symptoms or are lab confirmed to be positive must stay off campus until they meet the criteria for re-entry.
Criteria for lab-confirmed or presumed cases include: at least three days have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications), improvement of symptoms, and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared. If a staff member who is symptomatic wants to return to campus before completing the stay at home period they must either be cleared by a medical professional with an alternative diagnoses, or have two separate confirmations at least 24 hours apart that they are negative for COVID.
Districts can consider screening students like they do for staff. Parents must ensure that students who are symptomatic or lab-confirmed do not go back to campus and instead receive remote instruction.
If a member of the school community is found to be lab-confirmed, the school must notify the health department, clean the areas heavily used by the individual, and notify the school community.
The state guidelines suggest measures that districts have already been planning for: extra and more thorough cleaning at each building, especially at heavily used areas; social distancing as much as possible in the classrooms and communal areas; and encouragement of hand washing and hand sanitizer use.
It is recommended that schools come up with entrance and exit plans that create the smallest crowds and allows for social distancing. Districts are encouraged to reduce crowding as much as possible and should consider canceling assemblies and other large group activities.
The guidance for teachers states that they “must continue to meet the work expectations set by their employers, subject to any applicable employment contract terms.” Teachers and staff should be trained on all COVID-19 protocols and districts are encouraged not to hold in-person staff meetings unless absolutely necessary.
Concerns from parents over the health risks and logistical problems may lead to historically high numbers of families choosing to homeschool based on the increase in calls and emails to the Texas Home School Coalition.