‘A slap in the face,’ educators association says of AG Paxton’s limits on local health officials’ power to close schools

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For many central Texas school districts, there’s just two to three weeks left before students go back to school,

Some public districts start the new school year on August 13, others resume the week of the 17.

Many have plans to be virtual through Labor Day.

But Attorney General Ken Paxton’s announcement on Tuesday — that local health officials don’t have the power to keep schools closed — is causing confusion and fear about the rest of the semester.

“It’s seen as another attack on our public schools, as a slap in the face,” said Ovidia Molina, President of the Texas State Teachers Association. “It seems like every day we hear something new that is sort of contrary to something we already heard, and we believed in and we were planning for.”

In mid-July, Austin-Travis County issued an emergency order saying schools shouldn’t have in-person classes in August.

Local districts made plans accordingly. Many announced they’ll provide virtual learning through Labor Day.

But the Attorney General is now saying local health authorities can’t order closures like that.

In response, the Texas Education Agency announced districts that remain closed solely based on local health authorities’ orders will risk losing state funding.

“If you say anything about funding, then you’re threatening us to go to school too soon,” said Molina.

The TEA’s guidance still includes, though, a section that says schools can use the first four weeks as a transition period and do remote learning. A board vote can lead to four additional weeks of that “transition period.”

Molina told KXAN, “The problem with that is that the pandemic is not giving us a date when it will be safe.”

She explained that educators are worried about what will happen after the transition period.

“I don’t feel like anyone’s really asked teachers what their opinion is,” said August Plock, a teacher in Pflugerville. “I think the majority of teachers in Texas do not feel safe. They feel uncomfortable.”

Plock is the President of Pflugerville Educators Association. He said local health officials should be able to decide what’s best for their school districts. He said a one-size-fits-all solution will not work.

“Texas is a big state. We have 1,247 school districts in the State of Texas,” Plock said. “They range in size from Houston ISD that has over 200,000 students to the smallest ISD in Texas, [which] is Divide which has 12 students.”

He added, “Trust me, teachers want schools to reopen. We recognize that in-person learning is what’s best for our students. That’s how our community public school systems supposed to work. But we also want to make sure that it’s safe.”

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