The Texas Education Agency (TEA) dropped their official guidance for the return to on-campus education starting this fall. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath made the announcement via conference call Tuesday to educators and officials from around the state. At best, the guidance was generic and left many with more questions than answers.
Morath said schools will have to offer on-campus instruction for families that want it in order for their virtual attendance to be counted. However, he did say that could change if the governor issues another closure order.
The first thing to come up was the topic of face masks and coverings for staff and students. The guidance currently says that everyone over the age of 10 will have to wear a face covering (plastic shield, cloth mask, disposable mask, etc.), per the governor’s executive order last week. He did not address how that would impact things such as athletics or band activities or if students and staff would be forced to wear them while participating in those activities. Some education consultants that we spoke with Tuesday evening believe that the order would apply to any all “school related functions.” Although, there was no certain guidance given.
Districts will be required to offer on-campus instruction five days a week for any family that wants it. That is the contradiction. Some districts have already developed plans already put forward by some districts, which wanted do a “hybrid” model where one group group comes a few days a weeks, and another group comes on opposite days with both groups possibly doing some sort of remote learning in between.
Morath the went onto explain that districts will not be able to limit the number of students in a building. If 100% of families want in-person instruction five days a week, the schools will have to bring them all on campus regardless of what educators and administrators feel is the best practice.
“We have a public health crisis and it continues and we cannot allow that to become and ed crisis so it’s going to be a lot of hard work for educators across the state of Texas,” Morath said.
“On-campus instruction in Texas public schools is where it’s at,” Morath said during a conference call with superintendents. “We know that a lot of families are going to be nervous, and if they are nervous, we’re going to support them 100 percent.”
TEA leaders are leaving many health and hygiene decisions to superintendents, a long-expected decision given the varying spread of the novel coronavirus in different corners of the state. However, state officials issued some mandates Tuesday, including a requirement that teachers and staff self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before entering a campus.
SO WHAT IS THE REACTION?
Some school staff members and parents fear the resumption of in-person instruction will cause the virus to spread more rapidly, particularly if classes restart in areas such as right here in Corpus Christi, that are already experiencing an outbreak. While children display symptoms of COVID-19 at low rates, public health officials are not yet certain about how often they are infected and spread the virus to adults.
On Tuesday evening, The Southside Light News spoke with three of the state’s four largest teacher unions and organizations. They were quick to offer criticism of the plan. All three of the unions that we spoke with argued that Texas education leaders are moving too quickly to reopen campuses and failing to require enough safety protocols.
They all believe that by allowing up to 100 percent of a school’s students to return to campuses will put kids and teachers at risk. Parents seem to agree.
“I don’t like this,” said Marjorie Mendoza of Corpus Christi. “So what if I want my son to stay at home and learn that way but his friends are all out playing in the band? What they are doing is making this very difficult for parents. You have one group that will go to band or football and another group that will keep their kids at home. Then your kids feel like you are keeping them from their friends when all you are doing is trying to keep them safe.”
We also spoke with three child psychologists who feel the same way. They say that you are forcing the kids to pick a certain activity or be punished for being safe. They also worry about bullying from parents who speak of concerned parents calling them names and making jokes about how the protective parents are not good parents. Child development experts say that they worry this guidance creates a social division and that isn’t healthy.
ROOM FOR INTERPRETATION
In the vague guidance that was published by the TEA on Tuesday there was a political “get out of jail free card” which would allow for changes to be made with the guidance. Morath and state superintendents have been meeting regularly and at one point they were even meeting every single day to discuss the fluid situation. Tuesday’s announcement left room for changes.
State lawmakers have little say-so in the matter and the actual decision making lies with the state’s superintendents, many of whom already for some of reason are fearful of standing up to Commissioner Morath. But that could very well be short lived as parents, teachers, school boards and superintendents begin voicing their dislike of the plan.
The long pole in the tent is extra-curricular activities like band and football. So far, it seems like the overall idea would be that if a district decided to go fully remote then there would likewise be no athletics or band or other extra-circular activities. That is something that Morath did not address in the Tuesday phone call. He also only touched on the notion that TEA offices will remain on remote work until January 2021 while everybody else continues to work. Observers feel like this is not the last version of the guidance that anybody will see and that a revised version could likely be issued soon if people start voicing their disagreement.
SO WHERE DOES THE REVISION START?
Concerned parents, teachers and educators who have an opinion on the matter can start voicing their concerns at the local level to the superintendent of their school district. They can then follow that up by contacting the Texas Education Agency and leaving a voicemail. Parents and educators can also Send and email to Comissioner Morath’s email voicing their concerns or thoughts on the matter.