AUSTIN - After the Texas Education Agency released its initial public health guidance last week for the 2020-21 school year saying students could go back to in-person learning in the fall, many teachers and parents shared concerns.
Now, the TEA has announced additional guidelines allowing for a virtual learning start in the fall, "given the latest developments around COVID-19."
"School systems will now be able to temporarily limit access to on-campus instruction for the first four weeks of school," the agency said in a statement. "After the first four weeks, a school system can continue to limit access to on-campus instruction for an additional four weeks, if needed, with a board-approved waiver request to TEA."
The new guidelines include exceptions for students who don't have reliable internet access or the needed devices for virtual learning at home. Those students will still be entitled to on-campus instruction every day during this transition period.
However, Texas announced it is allocating $200 million in funding from the CARES Act to the TEA for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for students who lack connectivity.
The state says the funding will be used by the TEA to purchase and distribute devices, hotspots, routers, and more based on specific needs identified by local education agencies.
TEA's updated guidelines also allow local school boards for districts in areas with high levels of community spread to delay the start of the school year.
Other changes allow schools to convert high schools—with school board approval—to "a full-time hybrid model once students have transitioned back to on-campus instruction."
Meanwhile, Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina released the following statement on TEA’s new school opening guidelines:
“The state education commissioner has given school districts additional time to reopen school buildings without a financial penalty, but irrelevant deadlines are not what educators and students need. Educators, students and their parents need assurance that school buildings will not be reopened until it is safe to do so. Right now, with the pandemic still raging across Texas, we don’t know when that will be.
“We demand that Gov. Abbott issue a statewide order that all school buildings remain closed and all instruction be provided remotely until the pandemic has clearly begun to subside and it is safe to reopen school buildings under strict safety standards. The state and school districts must work with educators and health experts to decide when that time is here for each school district. Meanwhile, districts must receive full state funding.
“Instead of being forced to provide on-campus instruction when it is still not safe to do so, districts must be provided the financial assistance to supply all students with the resources they need for remote instruction at home, and the state must require districts to do so.”