AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Education Agency released new guidance for school districts across the state, which includes allowing schools to extend the transition period of remote learning by an additional four weeks.

Originally, the agency allowed schools a three-week remote learning transition period. Now, that transition period has been extended to four weeks and can be extended by an additional four weeks by vote of local school boards.

“Our school systems I think are doing a phenomenal job responding in real-time to a rapidly evolving situation. We do know that they need flexibility to make sure that they can they can get all their procedures well-executed,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

Additionally, the guidance offers advice for districts to ensure the staff stays safe:

“This could include allowing those staff, including teachers, who may fulfill their work duties remotely to do so. It could include modification of schedules to ensure, where feasible, that staff members, including teachers, interact with smaller and/or more consistent cohorts of individuals to further mitigate risk. In addition, teachers and staff who are in high risk categories may be entitled to paid leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in addition to leave already accrued.”

Texas Education Agency

This comes after weeks of teachers calling for an update to the safety protocols.

Morath said the agency has been communicating with teachers, superintendents and other staff across the state during the entire process.

“Our updated guidance provides more clarity so that school districts do in fact always work with all of their, their different staffers; returning teachers, or bus drivers, or cafeteria workers…as they’re crafting these plans. We, you know, we think it’s important that that that everyone is affected by this has a seat at the table,” Morath said.

Schools that offer remote learning must still offer in-person learning for any students without internet access at home.

To aid with access, Gov. Greg Abbott announced $200 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to the TEA for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions.

With that funding, the TEA will be able to purchase and distribute devices, hotspots, routers and more based on specific needs identified by local school districts.

“As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction,” Gov. Abbott said in a statement.

“We’re asking districts exactly what number of devices they need, whether we’re talking hotspots or you know, Chromebooks, these these kinds of things, for the families that that need them, and we’re actually going to just directly order it and ship it. So that allows us to really reduce total cost,” Morath explained.

Some parents have concerns over the extension of remote learning, inlcuding sinlge mother Nicole McNeely. She works full-time to support her three children, who are all at different grade levels.

“Okay, well, let me quit my job. Boom, here I go back on full state, you know, benefits. No, it’s not how I should be living…. this is money out of other people’s pockets. So it’s a never-ending circle. It just doesn’t end,” McNeely said.

Commissioner Morath said parents should communicate with their local districts.

“Parents generally have a right to put their kids in just about any school they wish. So I would tell you, encourage parents to talk to their local school system, tell them what their needs are. And try to find the option that works best for them,” Morath said.

The new guidelines also give school advice for what to do if a student or faculty member tests positive for COVID-19 once in-person learning resumes. That includes time for sanitation of the school, and criteria for the infected person to return:

  • At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever
  • without the use of fever-reducing medications);
  • the individual has improvement in symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, etc.)
  • at least ten days have passed since symptoms first appeared

TEA also recommends a supervised 20 seconds of hand-washing twice a day, along with after using the restroom and before meals.