Texas Says Schools Can Re-open in the Fall; State Won’t Require Facemasks or Virus Testing

Guidelines for reopening during the coronavirus pandemic are expected to be released next week, largely leaving decisions at the local level.

The state will not require students to wear facemasks, shields, or be tested for the deadly coronavirus when Texas schools re-open for in-person classes in the fall.

“It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall,” said Mike Morath, Texas Education Commissioner, in a statement released Thursday. “But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses.”

The details on how districts should proceed with health protocols are expected to be released next Tuesday. Frank Ward, a spokesperson at the Texas Education Agency, said many decisions will be left to local leaders.

“There’s an emphasis on local control,” Ward said

Some districts, including Dallas ISD, are planning on having students use facemasks and shields, although the district and many others are still in the planning stages of laying out their policies.

Schools across the country shutdown in March officials tried to curb the spread of COVID-19. That meant educators had to quickly scramble to provide lessons online, which was difficult as not all students had access to reliable internet connections or devices.

Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Thursday that school districts across the state, including his own, are still awaiting for guidance from state officials on funding and COVID-19 regulations before setting out plans for the 2020-21 school year.

District leaders across the state have been planning for various scenarios on how to move forward as they await official guidance from the state.

The Dallas school district has created a first draft of its own guidebook for reopening schools that sets out safety and security guidelines as well as three instructional models it could use. That includes providing students with masks and using Plexiglass barriers in several settings.

Last week, Hinojosa said that the district was in a holding pattern on which model to choose, waiting on state guidance, particularly on how class time would be counted for online-only instruction. Attendance calculations are the engine behind the state’s school funding formulas.

The Fort Worth and Garland school districts announced this week that they will offer both in-person classes and virtual learning. FWISD noted that its online classes will be different that the rushed lessons this past spring with teachers participating in more training and those teaching online will do so from a classroom setting.

During several interviews with TV outlets around the state this week, Texas governor Greg Abbott reiterated that it was his goal to have students back in schools by the fall.

“The best case scenario for education is that students will return to the school setting in classrooms with teachers with other students, and engage in activities like they were at the beginning of school last year,” Abbott told El Paso’s KVIA-TV on Tuesday. “There will be better safety standards in place, standards that will ensure that they reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

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