(The Center Square) – The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) guidance for in-person public school instruction requires that children over age 10 wear face coverings in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest executive order, unless the order is amended before classes begin.
The order mandates that children over age 10 wear face coverings in counties with more than 20 reported coronavirus cases.
The 2020-2021 Public Health Planning Guidance document released to school districts states that schools “must provide daily on-campus attendance for students otherwise entitled to attend school … whose parents wish them to attend on campus each day.”
Parents who choose to keep their children enrolled in public school but receive instruction at home may request “virtual instruction from any school system that offers such instruction.” 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,” the document states.
The guidance may change depending on the public health situation, the TEA states. The TEA’s role, it emphasizes, “is to help coordinate the flow of information from the state to districts, help districts solve problems, and provide guidance that will aid in districts’ decision-making. TEA does not have the general authority to close schools for matters related to health. This authority lies with the local health authority, DSHS, and the Governor of Texas.”
The guidance outlines four categories of practices, some of which are requirements for all schools, and some of which are recommendations. They include requirements for parental and public notices; required practices to prevent the virus from entering the school; required practices to respond to a lab-confirmed case inside of a school building; and recommended and required practices to reduce the spread of the coronavirus inside of a school building.
School systems are required to publicly post one week prior to the start of on-campus activities and instruction a summary of the plan the school will follow to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Per Texas Education Code, students must attend 90 percent of the days a course is offered, with some exceptions, in order to receive credit for the course and be promoted to the next grade. This includes virtual and in-person instruction.
School systems must require teachers and staff to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school every day, and parents must not send a child to school in person if the child is presenting COVID-19 symptoms. School systems may also consider screening students for COVID-19, according to the guidance.
The guidance lists requirements for cleaning, procedures to follow if a student or individual in a school has received a lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 test, procedures for separating students presenting COVID-19 symptoms, and details on providing notifications of all lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases among students, teachers or staff who participate in any on-campus activities.
When it comes to wearing face coverings, the guidance acknowledges “it may be impractical for students to wear masks or face shields while participating in some non-UIL athletic or other extracurricular activities.”
When this is the case, “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,” the guidance states. “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.”
The guidance suggests that schools consider placing student desks a minimum of six feet apart when possible, add dividers between bathroom sinks, and have students eat lunch at their desks, using seats that are spaced at least 6 feet apart.
Cafeteria tables could use dividers if they will shield the students from respiratory droplets with which they might otherwise come into contact with, the guidance adds.
“For meal service itself, consider individually plated meals with disposable food service items for students who do not bring their own lunch,” it states.
Schools should also consider staggering school start and end times, assigning students to entries to ensure even distribution of students entering/exiting at each door, instruct students to enter one at a time and wait six feet apart outside the entrance, encourage families to drop students off, carpool or walk with their student to school to reduce possible virus exposure on buses, according to the guidance.