TEA Issues New Back-to-School Guidance

It took a week or so, but the Texas Education Agency has revised its original guidance on re-opening schools after significant backlash from teachers and parents.

Less than 24 hours after Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang ordered almost all public, private, and charter schools in the county to remain closed to on-campus instruction through Sept. 7, the TEA announced revisions to its original guidance, which only allowed districts to push back school start dates or offer online-only instruction through the first three weeks of school – or risk their state funding.

But as cases of COVID-19 continued to surge and parents and teachers pushed back, it became clear that stance would need to change. A week later, the TEA said it would let districts offer distance learning through the entire fall semester, if local health officials said it was needed.

Huang banned on-campus instruction through Sept. 7 – including school-sponsored activities like sports – after conferring with local school superintendents.

The TEA’s new guidance, issued Friday morning, allows school districts to go a full month of online only, and then apply for a waiver to continue that if they need to. 

However, students that lack internet access, or that need reliable access to technology will still be entitled to on-campus instruction. 

Districts with high levels of community spread are allowed to delay the start of the school year, and once on-campus learning returns, high schools may be able to adopt a hybrid system that is part on and off campus instruction.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott and several other state officials announced that Texas would allocate $200 million in CARES Act funding to the TEA for purchasing the technology students would need to learn online.

“As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction,” said Abbott. “As we continue to combat COVID-19 in Texas, we are committed to providing reliable and effective solutions that will help students academically succeed while protecting public health.”

The funding will allow the TEA to purchase and distribute devices, hotspots, routers, and more based on specific needs identified by local education agencies (LEAs). The funding would be used to establish a reimbursement program with a matching fund component tied to locally controlled Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) or LEA local funding. This funding is in addition to a previously announced distribution of up to $400 million of CRF to reimburse districts for COVID-19 expenses incurred during the 2019-2020 school year. This funding will also establish a reimbursement program for devices and home internet costs incurred by LEAs from May 21 through Sept. 1. 

“While getting our students back to school is our top priority, many local districts are also developing a variety of virtual learning plans to ensure that students do not lose valuable learning time as we continue to fight COVID-19,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said. “This funding is an essential step in closing the digital gap for students by making access to technology available to every child who needs it.”

“This funding will go a long way to close existing technology gaps and improve connectivity statewide, and in doing so, our students will be equipped with the tools needed for success in the upcoming school year,” said Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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