TCTA is alarmed at the insistence by officials at all levels of government that schools should open for in-person instruction next month, while the rates of COVID-19 infection are surging in many parts of Texas.
We have many concerns about the guidance issued today by Commissioner Morath, chief among which is that districts would be required to offer in-person instruction if even one parent requests it, without regard to whether it can be done safely. These decisions should be made only in conjunction with the recommendations of state and federal health officials, and teachers and other campus employees should be consulted on the policies that will dictate how in-person instruction can be safely implemented.
Teachers look forward to getting back into the classroom, but not if it risks their health and that of their students, families and the community.
TCTA recommendations on reopening schools
TCTA seeks clear, enforceable state policies that will determine whether and when on-site instruction in a district is appropriate, and how it is to be accomplished safely, which include the following:
- Schools must be closed for on-site instruction until safe for students and employees, as determined by local health authorities based on factors established at the federal and state level, including the number of COVID-19 infected individuals in the county, the trajectory of infection rates, and the time period during which infection rates should be at or below a particular level;
- Determinations of the suitability of on-site instruction should include considerations such as the ability of a district to provide protection to students and employees (e.g., masks and distancing) as needed;
- Funding structures should not jeopardize the ability of schools to safely re-open for on-site instruction by providing less funding for students participating in remote learning during the pandemic;
- Decisions about the number of students allowed to return safely to on-site instruction should be made by local health authorities in accordance with state and federal recommendations, based on local health conditions, and implemented by local school districts;
- Policies should prioritize certain student groups to be provided with on-site instruction when safe to do so, including for students in grades K-2, students most likely to have suffered a COVID slide (SPED, EL, at-risk, and students with significant learning gaps), and students with limited or no access to the internet;
- Districts must plan for situations in which some staff will not be available for in-person instruction, based on underlying health risks, Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations, or other factors;
- Resources must be devoted to improving any remote learning needed during the school year;
- Policies must ensure that all students and teachers have access to the technology necessary for remote learning;
- Accommodations must be made for students and employees who may have underlying risk factors or reside with individuals having underlying risk factors, including that if remote instruction opportunities are available, they will be offered to such staff as an accommodation;
- Policies should include potential repurposed uses for paraprofessionals during times of remote learning, including helping teachers supplement online instruction by conducting small group reinforcement of learning, or assisting with district or campus technology support;
- School business requiring group gatherings should be conducted remotely to the maximum extent possible, such that in-person group gatherings are limited to only absolutely essential functions (e.g. staff meetings, convocations), and only in accordance with federal, state, and local health guidelines; and
- Policies should require districts to identify school personnel who will be charged with contacting and locating students, particularly in times of remote instruction. Consideration should be given to using non-instructional personnel, including repurposing current roles of non-instructional personnel, to the maximum extent possible for these duties.
- Suspend the administration of the state assessments, given the likely disruption to learning that will occur throughout the upcoming school year, and that results are unlikely to be an accurate representation of learning.
- Suspend issuance of accountability ratings, or at the least, suspend A-F ratings and pare down accountability indicators to only those that can validly and accurately be included.
- Suspend the requirement for teacher evaluation, again due to the disruption of traditional modes of instructional delivery that will likely occur throughout the upcoming school year, rendering typical components of teacher evaluation (observation and student growth) difficult, if not impossible to capture accurately.