On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency issued comprehensive guidelines concerning COVID-19 for the upcoming school year.
The guidelines are based on four sets of practices that minimize the likelihood of viral spread. Some that are requirements for all schools and others are recommendations.
- PROVIDE NOTICE: Requirements for parental and public notices
- PREVENT: Required practices to prevent the virus from entering the school
- RESPOND: Required practices to respond to a lab-confirmed case in the school
- MITIGATE: Recommended and required practices to reduce likely spread inside the school
Within those four sets of practices, there is a list of things parents will want to take note of.
- School systems must post for parents and the general public, one week prior to the start of on-campus activities and instruction, a summary of the plan they will follow to mitigate COVID-19 spread in their schools
- Per Texas Education Code (TEC), §25.092, students must attend 90% of the days a course is offered (with some exceptions) in order to be awarded credit for the course and/or to be promoted to the next grade. This requirement remains in force during the 2020-21 school year.
- Given the public health situation, student attendance may be earned through the delivery of virtual instruction.
- Any parent may request that their student be offered virtual instruction from any school system that offers such instruction.
- If a parent who chooses virtual instruction wants their child to switch to an on-campus instructional setting, they can do so, but school systems are permitted to limit these transitions to occur only at the end of a grading period, if it will be beneficial to the student’s instructional quality.
- If a parent requests virtual instruction and the school does not offer it, the parent may enroll in another school that does offer it for transfer students.
- School systems must require teachers and staff to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming onto campus each day.
- Parents must ensure they do not send a child to school on campus if the child has COVID-19 symptoms.
- School systems may consider screening students for COVID-19 as well.
- Regularly performing a forehead temperature check of otherwise asymptomatic students in school is not recommended, but the practice is also not prohibited by this guidance.
- Before visitors are allowed onto campuses, school systems must screen all visitors.
- Schools must immediately separate any student who shows COVID-19 symptoms while at school until the student can be picked up by a parent or guardian.
- Schools should clean the areas used by the individual who shows COVID-19 symptoms while at school (student, teacher, or staff) as soon as is feasible.
- Students who report feeling feverish should be given an immediate temperature check to determine if they are symptomatic for COVID-19.
- If an individual who has been in a school is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19, schools must close off areas that are heavily used by the individual with the lab-confirmed case (student, teacher, or staff) until the non-porous surfaces in those areas can be disinfected, unless more than 3 days have already passed since that person was on campus.
- 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 school if a lab-confirmed COVID-19 case is identified among students, teachers or staff who participate on any on-campus activities.
- Schools should attempt to have hand sanitizer and/or handwashing stations with soap and water at each entrance. They should also attempt to provide hand sanitizer and/or handwashing stations with soap and water in every classroom.
- Students, teachers, staff, and campus visitors should be encouraged to sanitize and/or wash hands frequently.
- Campuses should institute more frequent cleaning practices, including additional cleaning by janitorial staff, as well as provide the opportunity for children to clean their own spaces before and after they are used, in ways that are safe and developmentally appropriate.
- Whenever possible, schools should open windows or otherwise work to improve air flow by allowing outside air to circulate in the building.
- Schools are required to comply with the governor’s executive order regarding the wearing of masks.
- It may be impractical for students to wear masks or face shields while participating in some non-UIL athletic or other extracurricular activities. When it is impractical for students to wear masks or face shields during those activities, schools must require students, teachers, staff, and visitors to wear masks or face shields when entering and exiting facilities and practice areas and when not actively engaging in those activities. Schools may, for example, allow students who are actively exercising to remove masks or face shields, as long as they maintain at least six feet of distance from other students, teachers, and staff who are not wearing masks or face shields. However, schools must require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks or face shields as they arrange themselves in positions that will allow them to maintain safe distancing.
- In classroom spaces that allow it, consider placing student desks a minimum of six feet apart when possible.
- In classrooms where students are regularly within six feet of one another, schools should plan for more frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizing and should consider whether increased airflow from the outdoors is possible.
- When feasible and appropriate (for example, in physical education classes as weather permits), it is preferable for students to gather outside, rather than inside, because of likely reduced risk of virus spread outdoors.
- Schools should consider staggering school start and end times, assigning students to entries to ensure even distribution of students entering/exiting at each door, providing guidance to students to enter one at a time and wait six feet apart outside the entrance, and, where appropriate, encouraging parents to remain outside during drop-off and pick-up.
- Consider adding dividers between bathroom sinks, especially when students cannot be at least six feet apart while using the sinks.
- School systems should consider practices that reduce the likelihood that students meet the close contact definition (defined below) at lunch. This could include having students eat lunch at their desks. It could include the use of seats that are spaced at least 6 feet apart. It could include the use of dividers on cafeteria tables if they can serve the purpose of shielding the students from respiratory droplets with which they might otherwise come into contact. For meal service itself, consider individually plated meals with disposable food service items for students who do not bring their own lunch.
- School systems should consider requiring students and staff to use hand sanitizer upon boarding the bus.
- When possible, schools should open windows to allow outside air to circulate in the bus.
- School systems should encourage families to drop students off, carpool, or walk with their student to school to reduce possible virus exposure on buses.
- Buses should be thoroughly cleaned after each bus trip, focusing on high-touch surfaces such as bus seats, steering wheels, knobs, and door handles. During cleaning, open windows to allow for additional ventilation and airflow.
- Parents and other adults can visit schools, as permitted by local school system policies. During these visits, parents and other visitors must follow virus prevention and mitigation requirements of the school.
- School systems should restrict visits in schools to only those essential to school operations.
You can see the full list of guidelines in the document at the bottom of this page.
The Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner responded to the guidelines, saying "The guidance we received today from the Texas Education Agency is right in line with the plans we have been making for the 2020-2021 school. In addition to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) available for staff and students and day-long cleaning activities to keep down the potential exposure to any virus, we are also offering parents the choice of in-person or virtual instruction. The health and safety of our students and employees remain a top priority."
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa described students going back to school as a complex issue and said districts need direction as quickly as possible.
Hinojosa added elementary school students will be expected to wear face shields in the fall.
"We’re not going to get in a tussle with a family but we’re going to expect it," Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa also said the state has been telling the district all along to be prepared for five-day rolling shutdowns during the school year.