In the past weeks, educators and families have had to grapple with often confusing and conflicting signals. Recent state policies and guidance remain in flux and subject to change.
Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to formally announce a definitive plan for reopening Texas schools safely, but in recent days, state government officials have taken two actions that appear to direct school districts to reopen classrooms on the state’s timetable or risk losing funds and potential litigation.
First, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released nonbinding legal guidance saying local public health officials do not have the power to preemptively require all schools in their jurisdictions to remain closed. The problem with this guidance is that it is non-binding. Educators and families seeking definitive answers are once again forced to look elsewhere for clarity.
Second, state education officials reversed an earlier decision by announcing they will not fund school districts that keep classrooms closed for longer than the state allows even if ordered to do so by a local health mandate. In this case, this policy not only creates unnecessary tension between school districts and health officials, it creates potential for a slew of litigation between stakeholders and state government officials.
As the new school year approaches, educators and families must once again rethink their back-to-school plans and are left scrambling for contingency plans.
So, at this moment in time, these are the snapshot of the current guidelines:
• School Districts may choose to delay start dates, both for remote and in-person learning;
• School Districts may choose to offer instruction remotely for a maximum of eight weeks (transition period) but must offer in-person instruction only to families without access to technology. At the expiration of the eight-week period, school districts can offer in-person instruction to families who request it.
• School Districts who offer in-person instruction can only shutdown when there is confirmed case of Covid.
• Local Health Officials cannot order a school district to shut down as preventative measure.
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