This page was updated on March 2, 2022.
What guidance is available on mask wearing in school?
Per Gov. Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38, school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. GA-38 addresses government-mandated face coverings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other authority to require protective equipment, including masks, in an employment setting is not necessarily affected by GA-38. The order provides that school systems must allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so.
Gov. Abbott’s order has been challenged in court by school districts asserting that the governor lacks legal authority to prohibit mask mandates imposed by local school district, which are authorized by law to govern and oversee the management of schools. Additionally, a group representing children with disabilities has sued the governor in federal court, arguing that the order prevents districts from providing the students a safe environment to accommodate the students’ disabilities. The federal court has issued an order that permanently blocks enforcement of GA-38 as it applies to the prohibition against mask mandates by schools. An appeal and continued litigation of this case is expected, which could change the final result. Click here to read more.
The CDC's latest guidance now says fully vaccinated and boosted people living in areas with low (green) or moderate (yellow) levels of COVID-19 transmission don't need to wear masks indoors. Their guidance applies to schools, but students and employees should continue to follow local guidelines, especially in areas where transmission continues to be high (orange).
Is there guidance for the 2021-22 school year for when students have COVID-19 and/or other individuals with a test-confirmed case have been in school?
Yes, per TEA’s public health guidance and as provided in this Department of State Health Services Rule, school systems must exclude students from attending school in person who are actively sick with COVID-19, who are suspected of being actively sick with COVID-19, or who have received a positive test result for COVID-19, and must immediately notify parents if this is determined while on campus. Parents must ensure they do not send a child to school on campus if the child has symptoms or is test-confirmed, until the conditions for re-entry are met. The readmission criteria includes that children who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have any symptoms must stay home until at least 10 days after the day they were tested. This includes being fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever suppressing medications. Fever is a temperature of 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius) or higher.
During the exclusion period, the school system may deliver remote instruction consistent with the practice of remote conferencing outlined in the proposed Student Attendance Accounting Handbook rules.
While school systems are not required to conduct COVID-19 case investigations, local public health entities have authority to investigate cases and are currently engaged in cooperative efforts on that front. The school must also submit a report to the Texas Department of State Health Services via an online form. The report must be submitted each Monday for the prior seven days (Monday-Sunday).
Consistent with school notification requirements for other communicable diseases, and consistent with legal confidentiality requirements, schools must notify all teachers, staff, and families of all students in a classroom or extracurricular or after-school program cohort if a test-confirmed COVID-19 case is identified among students, teachers or staff who participated in those classrooms or cohorts.
What about students who are in close contact to a student who has COVID-19?
Per TEA’s public health guidance, school systems are not required to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing. If school systems are made aware that a student is a close contact, the school system should notify the student’s parents. Parents of students who are determined to be close contacts of an individual with COVID-19 may opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period. Per CDC, the stay-at-home period can end for students experiencing no symptoms on Day 10 after close contact exposure, if no subsequent COVID-19 testing is performed. Alternately, students can end the stay-at-home period if they receive a negative result from a PCR acute infection test after the close contact exposure ends. Individuals who are fully vaccinated may not need to follow the stay-at home period.
In addition, schools may choose to require students who live with a COVID-19 positive individual to stay at home during the stay-at-home period if they are in an area with high or rising COVID case rates. Parents of these household-based close contact students may also opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period.
As a reference, close contact determinations are generally based on guidance outlined by the CDC, which defines close contact as "someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (for example, three individual 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes)." Exception: In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time. * This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.
What about staff who have COVID-19 or who are close contacts?
Per TEA’s public health guidance (updated Jan. 7, 2022), similar to students, school systems must exclude staff from attending school in person who are actively sick with COVID-19, who are suspected of being actively sick with COVID-19, or who have received a positive test result for COVID-19. Based on recent updates from the CDC, staff may return when:
*Fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever suppressing medications. Fever is a temperature of 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius) or higher.
Staff who meet the close contact threshold with a COVID-19 positive individual and are in one of the following groups, do not need to stay at home.
For staff who meet the close contact threshold with a COVID-19 positive individual who are not in one of the above groups, it is recommended that the school system require that staff remain off campus during the stay-at-home period, but this is a local employment policy decision. If these staff continue to work on campus, rapid testing must be performed periodically for 5 days post-exposure, with testing on the 5th day recommended.
Is there guidance on COVID-19 testing?
Yes, per TEA’s public health guidance in order to help mitigate the risk of asymptomatic individuals being on campuses, school systems may provide and/or conduct recurring COVID-19 testing using rapid on-site antigen and off-site laboratory testing provided by the state or other sources through the end of the SY 21-22. Off-site testing results will be available within 24-48 hours. Testing can be conducted with staff and students voluntarily. Prior written permission of parents is required for students under the age of 18. Only school district nurses or approved vendors may conduct testing. All results of the tests will be reported through the appropriate web-based system. You may find out if your district is participating in the state program here.
Can COVID-19 be transmitted through HVAC (ventilation) systems?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aerosolized COVID-19 particles can remain suspended in the air for long periods, including after an infected person leaves a room. Research shows that upgrading air filtration systems and increasing outdoor airflow into indoor spaces can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases. In addition, improving school Indoor Air Quality has been shown to decrease respiratory-related illness infection rates and positively impact student attendance and student outcomes. This includes reducing rates of COVID-19 but extends to reducing the spread of other respiratory illnesses (common cold, flu, etc.) and reducing the severity of asthma symptoms. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Federal funds are available to schools for HVAC systems to improve air quality. For more information on COVID-19 and ventilation systems, see TEA's Ventilation System Impact on Student Health.