On Thursday afternoon public health officials in Nueces County took action that would require public and charter schools within the boundaries of Nueces to hold no in-person classes until at least September 8, 2020 in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The order is not unique to Nueces County. The order mimicked similar decrees in El Paso and Laredo which earlier in the week set the stage for a potential showdown with Gov. Greg Abbott, who overruled local governments in the early weeks of the pandemic as they made attempts to shutdown private businesses. So what is the argument? Private Schools.
In the state of Texas, private schools that receive no state funding operate as private businesses and have been largely spared from the argument until now. But those who work in the industry feel as if they are now being drawn into the fight.
Leanne Isom with Arlington Heights Christian School says that she raised her concerns at a conference call that took place on Thursday afternoon between operators of private schools in Nueces County and local leaders.
Isom said that the call included representatives from various private schools around the area including Annapolis Christian Academy, Yorktown and First Baptist.
“We sent out our coronavirus plan last week to parents,” Isom said Thursday night. “We have had nothing but positive feedback from parents.”
Isom said points out that they have had children in their facility all summer long because parents have to work. So far, what they are doing seems to be working because they have had no cases of coronavirus at their facility.
“We can social distance and we can take precautions that many public schools cannot take,” Isom said. “I mean we do not let the UPS carrier or mail carrier in the building. No unnecessary entry at all.”
Isom said that their plan includes temperature checks and monitoring for students and staff and that they have gone out of their way to make things safe for everybody. Just last week, they did what many public schools were not doing—they held sports camps. Isom noted how there still has not been a problem one.
“I am ready to fight this,” Isom said Thursday night. “We operate as a private business and the Governor has issued an exemption for private schools.”
Isom said that she pointed that very thing out on the video conference with local leaders on Thursday and made clear her point of view. Even Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb seemed to agree with her.
“Mayor McComb said that he agreed that he doesn’t believe that local government can force private schools such as Arlington Heights and others be grouped in under this order,” Isom said. “But then Judge Canales stepped in and she started insisting that local government does have the right to do this.”
BUT DO THEY?
If local government do or if they do not is ultimately a question that Gov. Greg Abbott may have to decide for everybody because at their heart private schools are really private businesses that survive off of tuition that parents pay and in the past, Gov. Abbott has stood beside them.
We reached out to Gov. Abbott’s office on Thursday to see if he will allow local school closure orders to stand or what conditions would prompt him to issue an executive order halting in-person instruction for everybody or if he would allow his current exemption to stand. So far, gov. Abbott’s office has not responded to requests for comment.
As for Isom, she says that she has reach out to the The Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) for help. They have assured her that they are ready for a fight there needs to be one and Isom is ready to join in on it for her students, her staff and the families that she serves.
“Judge Canales told us how teachers and parents are not wanting to return to school,” Isom said. “But mine are ready. Our staff have said that they are ready and so have our students and parents.”
Isom points out that public schools will survive this shut down while private schools will not. And she has a fair enough point. But what about the kids and their safety?
Experts on both side of the issue have good enough reasoning both ways. The public seems to be split 50/50 on the topic and there is no easy way out on this one.
Isom says that she has reached out to lawmakers, policymakers and even to the Attorney General for help.
“I’m ready for a fight,” she says. “But I don’t know what that fight looks like.”