AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Education Agency released guidelines for a “safe return to on-campus instruction,” including promises to ensure adequate remote learning for parents that wish to keep their children at home.
The agency says these guidelines prioritize the health of students, teachers and staff.
“The guidance laid out today will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis. The state is and remains committed to providing a high-quality education to all Texas students, while ensuring the health and safety of students, teachers, staff, and families,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said.
According to a release, on-campus learning will be available daily, and parents who opt into remote instruction will not have to commit more than two weeks in advance, so they can make their decision based on local public health data. Remote learners may be asked to commit for the full grading period, however.
Masks will be required in buildings and daily health screenings will be ensured before being allowed on campus, the agency notes. Districts will have the option to set up a “phased-in return” for up to the first three weeks of the school year.
The TEA said it will also be providing tens of millions of PPE supplies and that teachers will have the option to undergo an extensive online training to learn the new optional software, further ensuring success for virtual students.
Additional guidance includes step-by-step support for implementing health and safety measures, case planning for when students test positive for COVID-19 and “operation connectivity,” tools and resources provided by the state to meet the immediate needs for families with poor broadband connections.
Parents like Kristy Davis, who has two children in the Round Rock Independent School District said she is happy the state is providing options for families to suit their needs. She said, for now, she will choose distance learning for her kindergartner and 1st grader.
“Now that the numbers are going up, there’s just too many unknowns for me to feel safe sending them both to school,” Davis said. “Given how many parents rely on it for childcare so they can go to work, I think it’s good to have both options. I just don’t know what I would do if I had to send my kids, though.”
Education Austin, the union representing AISD educators and staff, said it feels teachers were largely ignored in this latest round of guidance.
Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, said he wants to see mandatory virtual learning and consistent downward COVID-19 trends before teachers return to school.
“The teachers don’t want to go back, largely,” Zarifis said. “If you’re saying that you can get a quality education online as well as in-person, then you go all online to protect all students and all teachers and employees.
Zarifis noted that early survey indicators show a large population of working, minority families will opt to send their kids to campus. Austin Public Health data has shown that Black and Latino families are at a greater risk of complications due to COVID-19.
“We are putting at risk the highest risk categories of infection,” Zarifis said. “There needs to be a much longer period before we re-enter.”