Photo: Courtesy Texas Education Agency
Face mask will be required for all teachers and students over 10 years-old when schools re-open in August as long as Governor Greg Abbott’s mask order remains in place, according to new guidelines released by The Texas Education Agency (TEA). In terms of other health and safety rules, the guidelines offer recommendations and general advice and leave policy decisions about social distancing requirements on buses and in classroom to district officials now working to implement large-scale online learning programs to accommodate parents who aren’t yet comfortable sending their child back into the classroom. The TEA’s guidelines, for example, instruct districts to screen students and parents before they enter schools with temperature checks neither required nor prohibited. Schools should “attempt” to have hand sanitizer at the school entrance and hand washing stations with soap and water in classrooms and districts “should consider” requiring students and staff to use hand sanitizer when boarding school buses, according to the new guidelines.
Overall, the lack of infection control standardized measures along with Governor Greg Abbott’s and the TEA’s mandate that schools must re-open despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases across the state drew criticism from area superintendents and teachers’ association officials including Texas Associated Federation of Teachers president Zeph Capo, who shared his opinion with a group of member teachers Thursday, July 9.
“I’m sorry that we have a government that doesn’t put your safety above their desire to make an extra buck. I’m sorry they don’t put the safety of our students above the idea of making an extra buck because what this has come down to be is a decision based on economics not necessarily based on the science, not necessarily based on the best interest of our students and our faculty and our staff,” Capo said during a zoom teleconference.
“If we could close schools at the levels of COVID-19 that we did in March, who the hell thinks it’s safe enough to open schools at the level of COVID-19 we’re experiencing in the State of Texas right now, particularly in the urban areas where we know many of our members are?” Capo said and vowed to demand changes from state officials. “We will continue to fight this issue and we will continue to push back against TEA.”
Officials from the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), responded to the new safety rules in a statement saying, “the responsibility for ensuring student and educator safety has been placed squarely on school administrators.”
“Too many questions are left unanswered in TEA’s guidelines,” Shannon Holmes, ATPE Executive Director said in the release. “We urge school district leaders to step in and fill this leadership vacuum to keep Texas children and educators safe, particularly as pockets of our state face rising COVID-19 outbreaks. All Texas students, parents, and educators deserve to be safe and have a firm understanding of the steps being taken to provide a safe learning environment.”
TEA guidelines require districts to re-open schools for full-time in-classroom learning next year and allows virtual learning for students not comfortable returning to the classroom yet. The guidelines were released Tuesday, July 7.