The Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday new safety guidelines for districts to follow upon reopening campuses for the 2020-2021 school year. In order to maintain state funding, Texas public school districts must reopen campuses for in-person instruction in August. Unless, Governor Greg Abbott issues a school closure order or there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 on an individual campus that forces a temporary shutdown of the building, Education Commissioner Mike Morath said.

The mandate allows families to decide between the options of in-classroom learning or 100% online learning. Districts can restrict the number of students who receive on-campus instruction for the first three weeks of the school year. This timeframe is designed to “facilitate an effective back-to-school transition process,” TEA officials said.

“Both as Commissioner and as a public school parent, my number one priority is the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “That is why 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.”

Morath noted in the press release that despite a challenging budget year, Texas leadership including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen are dedicated to fully funding both in-class learning and virtual learning for every child in the next school year. 

As a result, parents will have more choices than normal this year as they decide which school setting is best for their children, including:  

  • Daily on-campus learning will be available to all parents who would like their students to learn in school each day. 

    • In addition, all parents will have the option to choose remote learning for their children, initially, or at any point as the year progresses. Parents who choose remote instruction for their students may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period (e.g. 6 or 9 weeks), but will not have to make that commitment more than two weeks in advance, so they can make a decision based on the latest public health information.  
  • Health and safety procedures will be in place to support student and teacher safety.

    • All students, teachers, staff, and visitors coming to campus must be screened before being allowed on campus. Consistent with the Governor’s most recent executive order, and assuming that order is still in place, masks will be required while in school buildings, with certain exceptions made, as noted in the order. Schools will also be required to follow any forthcoming executive orders issued by the Governor.
    • Additional health procedures are recommended for every school that can reasonably implement those procedures. 
    • Districts have the option to establish a phased-in return to on-campus instruction for up to the first three weeks of the school year, to ensure all appropriate health and safety procedures are fully in place.  
  • TEA is providing school systems with resources to ensure a strong start. This includes:

    • Reimbursement for extra COVID-19-related expenses incurred during the 2019-20 school year;
    • Tens of millions of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies provided to school systems at no cost to Texas schools;
    • Free online, TEKS-aligned learning tools to deliver remote instruction;
    • Teacher training provided at no cost to the school system; and Statewide efforts to help bridge the digital divide for students at home, along with other ongoing support.

TEA leaders are leaving many health and hygiene decisions to superintendents. However, state officials issued some mandates Tuesday, including a requirement that teachers and staff self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before entering a campus. As well as wearing a face mask, per the Governor’s mandate.

The full release can be found here.

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor released a joint statement on TEA’s safety guidelines.