We knew the opening of schools in the fall would present big challenges to balancing the critical need to provide effective and robust academics to Texas’ 5 million children in public school while protecting their health in this coronavirus pandemic.
Parents, teachers and administrators have eagerly awaited some consistent rules from Austin that could instill confidence that Texas could successfully do both. What we got this week from the Texas Education Agency was information that has only created more confusion and uncertainty.
Commissioner Mike Morath says that public school campuses will open this fall, but the state won’t require the masks, shields or COVID-19 tests that science tells us greatly reduce transmission. At this moment, when cases and hospitalizations are spiking in many areas of the state, he’s declared that “it will be safe for students, teachers and staff to return to in-person instruction.” He says there will be flexibility for families with health concerns to educate their children remotely.
Health guidelines will come next week, the TEA says, that will put an emphasis on “local control.”
What that likely means is that it will be up to school districts across the state to set their own rules to keep kids and teachers safe. Sound familiar? A hodgepodge of inconsistent policies and procedures is what has created such confusion and chaos in this state’s fight against COVID-19 in the first place.
It’s disappointing, for example, that in the recent outbreak of cases Gov. Greg Abbott has not mandated Texans wear masks in public. Only this week have some counties discovered through a deep scavenger hunt through Abbott’s executive orders that they apparently have the power to mandate that businesses require patrons and employees to wear masks. This after counties have been rebuked by the state in their attempts to require residents to wear them.
A pandemic is no time for politics. We urge school leaders to enact clear policies that follow the CDC guidelines. We’re in favor of requiring masks, strict social distancing protocols and health screenings, along with taking kids’ and teachers’ temperatures.
Parents and teachers won’t feel comfortable with kids on school campuses unless they have confidence kids will be safe. And if they’re in a district such as Garland or Fort Worth that has decided to offer parents an option of distance learning, it’s reasonable for parents to expect that work to far exceed the rigor provided at the end of the last school year.
We also hope districts are still considering intersessional year-round calendars, smartly building in extra days to the school year should COVID-19 require another shutdown. And many students are in dire need of remedial help for the education losses experienced from the last school year and to guard against summer slide.
It’s encouraging that Garland ISD administrators have recommended adding extra days in October, March and June to catch students up who have fallen behind. We urge trustees to approve it on Tuesday and that other districts follow Garland’s lead.
It’s shaping up to be another chaotic school year no matter what districts or parents decide. We know some parents will have no choice but to send their kids back to in-person school. Educators have a responsibility to put the health of their students and teachers first and to make sure it’s safe to do so.