The Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Tuesday released its COVID-19 guidelines for schools to use in planning for the 2020-21 academic year — while acknowledging things may change depending on the pandemic landscape come August.
Houston ISD, which includes several campuses in the area, is expected to announce its own guidelines by July 15.
While the TEA document recognizes that adult teachers and staff are generally at greater risk for COVID-19 complications than students, it also cites the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says risks must be balanced with the need for children to attend school in person.
Therefore, it is a TEA mandate that school systems must provide daily on-campus attendance for students who follow the required public health procedures, subject to school closures. The TEA notes that there will almost certainly be situations that necessitate temporary school closures due to positive COVID-19 cases on campuses.
There is also the option of virtual instruction. However, if a parent who initially chooses virtual schooling wants to later switch to an on-campus instruction, schools can do so at the end of a grading period.
Although students must still attend classes at least 90 percent of the time to earn credit toward advancing a grade level, their attendance may be earned through the delivery of virtual instruction.
The TEA document seems to recognize that the first weeks of school are bound to be rocky as schools are allowed during the first three weeks to temporarily limit access to on-campus instruction.
Parents who want their children to attend in person may be required to start with remote instruction. However, allowances can be made for any family that does not have Internet access and/or devices for distance learning at home.
Once children are in school, they will be wearing masks “to comply with the governor’s executive order” except for certain athletic or extracurricular activities. Children under 10 years old, per the governor’s order, do not have to wear masks. The TEA says that school systems can also require the use of face shields for adults or students for whom it is developmentally appropriate.
The guidelines for determining a possible COVID-19 infection rely largely on self-screening. Teachers and staff must report to the school system if they have symptoms or are lab-confirmed with COVID-19, and then remain off campus until they meet re-entry criteria. They also must report if they have had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, and remain off campus until the 14-day incubation period has passed.
Parents are asked to ensure they do not send a child with COVID-19 symptoms or a child lab-confirmed with COVID-19 to school on campus.
School visitors, on the other hand, will be screened by the schools to determine if they have COVID-19 symptoms, are lab-confirmed with COVID-19, or if they’ve had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.
In the case of a COVID-19 diagnosis, an individual may return to school when at least three days have passed since recovery, they have improvement in symptoms, and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
Individuals with symptoms but no lab test may not return to the campus until the same three-step set of criteria are met.
Schools are being asked to separate any student who shows COVID-19 symptoms at school until the student can be picked up by a parent or guardian. Students who report feeling feverish should be given an immediate temperature check to determine if they are symptomatic for COVID-19.
In classroom spaces that allow it, the recommendation is to place student desks a minimum of 6 feet apart. Dividers for heavily trafficked bathroom and cafeteria areas are an option. When appropriate – such as for physical education classes – it is preferable for students to gather outside.
Parents and other adults can visit schools, but they must follow virus prevention and mitigation requirements of the school. School systems are encouraged, however, to reduce in-person staff meetings or other opportunities for adults to congregate in close settings.