The Texas Education Agency says school districts must now tell families when their child is exposed to COVID-19 and they also updated guidance Thursday related to remote learning for students who have been infected by or exposed to the virus.
Under public health guidance released Aug. 5, the TEA did not require schools to notify anyone other than the local health department and the Texas Department of State Health Services of positive cases of COVID-19. That means if a child tested positive and had been in class, the TEA said districts were not required to perform any contact tracing or were required to notify the families of other children who were in that same class.
That guidance was met with backlash from parents and medical experts who felt like families should be informed if their children were potentially exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom or at a school activity.
On Thursday, the TEA updated their guidance for reporting communicable diseases to be more consistent and now requires "all schools to 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."
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The TEA's initial guidance cited data from the 2020-21 school year that said that due to very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting and data demonstrating lower transmission rates among children compared to adults, schools didn't need to perform contact tracing. That data also came from a school year where many students were attending class virtually and those who were physically in class were subject to mask mandates. It was also before the highly transmissible delta variant became the dominant strain of the virus.
The TEA also said Thursday school districts may count remote instruction for students infected with COVID-19 or exposed to COVID-19 as classroom time for Foundation School Program funding purposes and count the student in attendance for FSP funding purposes, provided certain requirements are
These two requirements must be met:
- The student is unable to attend school because of a temporary medical condition.
- The total amount of remote conferencing instruction does not exceed more than 20 instructional days over the entirety of the school year.
In addition, one of the following requirements also must be met:
- The student’s temporary medical condition is documented by a physician licensed to practice in the United States. The documentation must include a statement from the physician that the student is to remain confined to their home or to a hospital.
- The student has a positive test result for a communicable condition listed in 25 TAC §97.7.
- The student has been identified as having been in close contact with COVID-19.
The rules for remote conferencing published Thursday by the TEA do not appear to address districts that are adding virtual learning programs for students K-6 who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated against the virus.
Many school districts have now taken up mask mandates, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning them, as a means of protecting unvaccinated children from COVID-19. Some districts are challenging the governor's order in court while others are simply defying the order.
The TEA added they will not issue guidance on mask requirements until legal challenges against Abbott's executive order are resolved and that Abbott’s mask order is currently not being enforced because of ongoing litigation.