The Texas Classroom Teachers Association is troubled by the insistence of state leaders that it is appropriate to open schools statewide this fall to in-person instruction, in light of rapidly increasing rates of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths in many parts of Texas due to the COVID-19 virus.
The governor, commissioner, and state leaders are working to provide guidance to school districts, but a key piece of the equation remains missing: the use of data and scientific evidence to determine if and when it is safe for millions of Texas students and school employees to return to schools, and to establish the protocols that must be followed when campuses are opened.
TCTA acknowledges that a uniform statewide order may not be appropriate, given the variations among Texas districts and areas of the state. It is also not appropriate or reasonable to expect local school boards and superintendents, who do not have expertise in public health matters, to make these decisions. Working documents regarding health standards that were released by TEA today consist primarily of “shoulds” and “when feasibles,” and do not appropriately ensure the safety of our schoolchildren, employees, or their families. Perversely, the new funding guidance includes strict prohibitions to prevent districts from fully operating remotely or in a hybrid model, without regard to local circumstances. NOTE: this portion of the guidance was removed from a subsequent version of the document.
The state must provide clear, enforceable parameters, established by state health care professionals, that must be met in order for a district to open for in-person learning. The metrics governing school re-openings must include the number of COVID-19-infected individuals in the area, the trajectory of infection rates, and the time period during which infection rates should be at or below a particular level before schools may open. The state should not place limitations on remote instruction that could actually endanger health by requiring districts to provide in-person instruction to all who wish to attend, regardless of the prevalence of the virus in their community or their ability to enforce distancing measures.
The statewide policy must also address considerations such as the ability of a district to provide protection to students and employees (e.g., masks and distancing) as needed. Accommodations must be made for students, including access to necessary technology, and for employees who are ill, have a need to quarantine, or who have underlying conditions placing them at high risk.
Local control has its place, but public health and an “acceptable” death toll are not among them. Let’s use the available data and expertise to make informed policies in the best interests of all.