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Rep. James Frank’s office—
WICHITA FALLS—Rep. James Frank reports in his most recent newsletter there has been no issue that has raised questions by constituents than: “what are we going to do about schools?”
It’s an issue, he wrote, with a number of layers:
- Will in-person classes resume?
- If in-person is an option, what are the risks to the kids/teachers/staff?
- Will classes (of any sort) start on time?
- Will parents have a choice for their kids on in-person vs remote?
- Will teachers have flexibility on how to handle classes?
- Who gets to make the decisions? The Governor? A Local Health Authority? The ISD? The parents?
Frank said there is some clarity to a number of those questions, so he wanted to take the opportunity to share what he knows in this newsletter.
“First, the Centers for Disease Control released information last week emphasizing the importance of reopening schools this fall. I encourage you to read the whole article but the highlights of the document were:
- COVID-19 is less deadly to children than the flu;
- COVID-19 doesn’t spread easily from kids to adults;
- Poor kids are most hurt by no in-person school options and;
- Safety protocols should be followed.
“With that in mind, I was glad to see the Wichita Falls Independent School District release its plan this week, which will give parents the choice between face-to-face instruction in classrooms or through remote learning. Though offering both options undoubtedly will be challenging, it allows families to decide what is best for them rather than suffer a one-size-fits-all mandate from above.
“I also would add that no parent in any school district should be forced to send their child to school, and no parent should be forced to keep their child at home. School districts and the state must offer choices for both children and teachers based on individual risks.
“Giving families choices and avoiding the temptation to mandate from on high has been a theme of education policy actions this week in state government.
Attorney General Ken Paxton made news when he said that the decision to offer in-person instruction or close schools should be made by a local school district. There was a question (brought about by the actions of some Texas county officials) as to whether a local health authority could preemptively shut down schools, overriding a decision by a school board. The AG weighed in to say that a local health authority can only issue a shutdown order for school buildings in response to an outbreak, not preemptive, blanket closures of schools weeks or months in advance of when schools would be open.
“In my opinion, this strategy demonstrates proper local control. School boards have the authority to make decisions about when the school year begins and how schools safely open. Parents or guardians (the ultimate local control) are able to make choices for their families.”
Frank also talked about Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that the STAAR test would still be administered during this upcoming school year but that it wouldn’t be the sole basis on which a student was held back in grades five and eight.
“Typically, a student has to pass the STAAR test in those grades to advance to middle school or high school,” Frank wrote. “That will not be the case this year.
“Standardized testing is a heated topic among parents, teachers, and lawmakers. I know that many folks are vocally opposed to nearly all forms of standardized testing. While it’s not a silver bullet for student (or teacher) assessment, it can be helpful. After a lost spring, in which many of those who were already struggling with their education were those most poorly served by the move to virtual learning, standardized testing could be more helpful than ever to gauge where to target instruction. Regardless, the focus on instruction should be helping students actually learn, not teaching to the test. This decision on STAAR testing helps achieve both goals.”