All school campuses must open this fall, the Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday, and they’ll have to follow whatever the governor’s mask order is at the time.
The TEA released comprehensive guidelines for the 2020-21 school year so classrooms can safely open after being shut down since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The agency previously released extended health guidelines for schools to review for the fall.
The guidance says daily, on-campus learning will be available to all students whose parents want them to be on campus.
“Both as commissioner and as a public school parent, my No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a written statement. “That is why the guidance laid out today will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis. The state is and remains committed to providing a high-quality education to all Texas students, while ensuring the health and safety of students, teachers, staff and families.”
The guidance includes allowing for daily on-campus learning if parents feel it is safe for their children, according to the agency. It also addresses Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask order.
TEA said schools will be expected to follow the mask order, if it is still in place when school starts. Masks will be required in school buildings with exceptions outlined in the order, including exempting children under the age of 10 from wearing a mask.
Counties with fewer than 20 active cases of COVID-19 are exempt from the mask order. School districts within those counties can mandate masks but do not have to, Morath said.
Other health procedures are mandated, according to TEA. Anyone entering a school building must be screened before being allowed on campus. Additionally, TEA said schools will have to follow all future mandates from the governor, which could include shutting down schools again.
Parents will have the option to choose distance learning for their students before classes start in the fall or at any point in the school year, though they could be asked to commit to that approach for an entire grading period.
Districts also have the option to phase school in, according to TEA. Districts can phase in students for up to the first three weeks of school.
A statement from TEA said parents and educators should expect to see some campuses close for “brief periods of time” during the upcoming school year because of the nature of COVID-19 pandemic.
The agency also said it is providing support for schools reopening. Some of that includes providing personal protective equipment to schools, reimbursement for 2019-20 COVID-19 expenses, free online learning tools for remote learning, teacher training at no cost to the school and statewide efforts to bridge the digital divide between students who have access to technology at home and those who do not.