TEA Says Contact Tracing Not Required by Schools, Reaffirms Gov. Abbott's Mask Mandate

TEA offers no recommendation on COVID-19 mitigation strategies in Public Health Guidance document, only guidance on what to do once an infection is confirmed

NBC 5 News

In guidance released Thursday, the Texas Education Agency reaffirmed Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order that masks cannot be required in Texas schools while adding that contact tracing is not required if and when positive cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in classrooms.

The TEA, the state agency that oversees primary and secondary education in Texas, published a document titled Public Health Guidance Thursday that offered no mitigation strategies to protect teachers and students against infection from COVID-19 and instead only outlined the steps to take when someone tests positive for the virus.

According to the TEA, if someone who has been in a school is confirmed by a test to have COVID-19 the school must notify the local health department and the Texas Department of State Health Services. The TEA does not require the school to notify anyone else of the positive case or investigate who that person may have been in contact with.

Citing data from the last school year, the TEA 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 are not required to conduct any COVID-19 contact tracing.

The data cited by the TEA comes from a school year when many students were attending class virtually and were not physically present in the classroom or from summer school where there is generally lower attendance. Those who were in the classroom were required to wear masks before May 26, a mitigation strategy that Abbott has decided can no longer be mandated despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask while indoors.

The TEA did say that should a school be made aware that a student is a "close contact" with someone who tested positive then the school district should notify the student's parents. Parents of students who are "close contacts" may then opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period.

According to the document released Thursday, the TEA is not requiring school districts to notify parents of positive cases within the district, or within a particular campus or classroom.

While school districts are forbidden from requiring students or teachers from wearing masks, to help mitigate the risk of asymptomatic people being on campus the TEA said school districts may conduct recurring COVID-19 testing using rapid tests provided by the state or other sources. Tests can be done with staff, or with students if their parents have given permission for them to be tested.

As per Abbott's executive order GA-38, school districts cannot require students or staff to wear a mask despite the recommendation from the CDC. School systems must allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so, however.

If a student is confirmed to have COVID-19, the student must be withheld from school until the conditions for re-entry are met. The TEA said parents "must ensure they do not send a child to school on campus if the child has COVID-19 symptoms or is test-confirmed with COVID-19."

A student who is either confirmed to have COVID-19 or confirmed to be a "close contact" may receive remote instruction while excluded from on-campus activities.

Texas DSHS COVID-19 Readmission Criteria

The readmission criteria for COVID-19 is as follows:

If symptomatic, exclude until at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset, and fever-free* and other symptoms have improved. 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.

*Fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever suppressing medications. Fever is a temperature of 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius) or higher.

For a complete list of all diseases requiring exclusion from school and the readmission criteria, please visit DSHS School Health Recommendations for the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases in a Group-Care Setting.

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