TCTA | TEA removes waiver option for science lab spaces after TCTA…
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TEA removes waiver option for science lab spaces after TCTA objections

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In TEA’s final adopted rules on school facility standards, several changes were made in response to requests from TCTA. TCTA submitted comprehensive comments on the rules when proposed, including requesting that the rules clarify that school districts must consider input from teachers and others in developing long-range facility. We also requested removal of a waiver option for districts from science lab space standards, particularly given the high-risk nature of science labs.

TEA made both of the requested changes, noting that in removing the waiver option for science lab standards “It is a district's responsibility to ensure that safety standards are met and that class size does not exceed the number for which the space was designed.”

Additionally, TCTA objected to provisions in the proposed rules giving school districts discretion in considering the statutory School Library Standards and Guidelines when developing, implementing, or expanding library services, arguing that school districts must be required to consider these. TEA agreed, and the adopted rules make it mandatory for school district consideration.

The final adopted comprehensive set of school facility rules — Adopted Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 61, School Districts, Subchapter CC, Commissioner's Rules Concerning School Facilities — additionally makes several improvements to school facility standards, including:

  • the minimum standards for combination science classrooms/laboratories for Kindergarten-Grade 8 improve upon former standards by requiring increased square footage per student as well as setting a maximum number of students;
  • the minimum standards for science labs in grades 6-8 improve upon former standards by requiring increased square footage per students as well as setting a maximum number of students;
  • The minimum standards for combination science classrooms/laboratories and science labs for grades 9-12 improve upon former standards by setting square footage per student standards as well as a maximum number of students; and
  • the requirement that a school district must consider as part of a capital improvement project the use of designs, methods, and materials that will reduce the potential for indoor air quality problems, as well as the use of sustainable school designs.

However, there are several changes in the new rules that TCTA challenged as loopholes for district compliance with school facility standards, including:

  • TEA added a “qualitative” method of compliance for capital improvement projects as an option for school districts for accommodating instructional or operational practices that “manage student capacity in an innovation/non-traditional manner.” TCTA objected, noting that this method of compliance provided no requirements or guidelines regarding how much adjustment can be made to the maximum instructional capacity. TCTA pointed out this created a potential major loophole for school district compliance with facility standards and asked for it to be eliminated. However, TEA declined to eliminate the option, stating that it simply allows two core spaces to be used if a school board has adopted a policy that modifies the proposed project's or campus's utilization, allowing additional spaces in the building to be counted as partially instructional in nature if they are partially used for instructional purposes.
  • TCTA also objected to a change in the rules from delineating instructional space standards by type of instructional space, including general classrooms, specialized classrooms, etc., to "minimum square footage per student by campus type and the selected flexibility level." TCTA pointed out that the proposed rules change from “classroom” to “school” when setting square footage per student standards means that individual classroom space will no longer be protected from overcrowding. TEA declined to eliminate the change, noting that it allow a campus to design for a wider variety of class sizes and configurations that are permitted under the rule, and that the square footage per student provides that the building can meet the instructional needs of the capacity of the building and project.
  • Similarly, TCTA objected to a change in the rules allowing minor scopes of work to be performed as part of a major renovation without the minor scopes of work triggering compliance with the new standards, noting that this again seemed to be a major loophole for districts to not have to comply with the instructional facilities space standards. However, TEA declined to eliminate the provisions in the rules, noting that it’s for things like painting and allows districts to get better pricing without requiring those areas to meet minimum space standards or methods of compliance.
  • Finally, TCTA objected to provisions in the rules allowing school districts to opt out from additional safety and security standards based on cost for up to three years for an instructional facility if the facility is scheduled to cease operations within that time frame, and if the facility does not cease operation in that time frame, giving a district another two years to be compliance with at least 2 additional safety and security standards. TCTA noted that five years seemed too long of a time period to allow a facility to not be compliant with additional safety and security measures. TEA declined to shorten the time frame, noting that it did not anticipate this exception being used frequently.

The final adopted rules became effective Oct. 12, 2021.