Gov. Greg Abbott says schools will reopen this fall and students can return in person with no requirements to wear masks. The announcement received pushback from the Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA).
“Texas AFT says a big ‘Hell No’ to what looks like a return to normal in August,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo in a prepared statement released Thursday. “We are not in normal times. We won’t sacrifice our members and students for politics.”
The announcement comes as Texas remains in phase 3 of reopening and leads the nation in coronavirus recoveries.
As of June 18, according to the state Department of Health Services, 2,105 people have died from the coronavirus out of Texas’ 28 million people, or .000075 percent.
“It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall. But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement released Thursday.
School districts will not be required to mandate students wear masks or test them for COVID-19 symptoms, said Frank Ward, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
The TEA is expected to release guidance for school districts on June 23. Abbott said there will “definitely be higher safety standards in place than when they opened last year.”
Capo said Morath’s comments did not “inspire confidence” and that masks need to be used “whenever possible.” TSTA President Noel Candelaria also said in a prepared statement that it should be a requirement that “all students, employees and anyone visiting a school have a mask available and be given temperature checks and other observations for COVID-19 symptoms before entering.”
“I will tell you that my goal is to see students back in classrooms in seats interacting personally with teachers as well as other students,” Abbot told KLBK TV News in Lubbock. “This is a very important environmental setting for both the students, for the teachers and for the parents.”
School districts also will be able to offer instructional alternatives for students, including continuing virtual learning.
Fort Bend Independent School District announced earlier this week that its elementary and middle school students will be returning this fall in person to school with adjusted schedules, according to the Texas Tribune.
Dallas ISD plans on having students wear facemasks and shields, although policies are still being developed, the Dallas Morning News reports. Fort Worth and Garland school districts announced that they will be offering in-person class instruction and virtual learning.
“The goal is to make sure that, as much as possible, we have students in the classrooms at desks – with teachers, with fellow students engaged in activities like they were just like when school began last year,” Abbott told KEYE TV CBS News Austin this week. “But understanding that there may be some times when it would be necessary for distance learning to be used. So we want to make sure that distance learning capacity does exist if either teachers or students become ill, but we want to incorporate as much classroom time for students as possible.”
In early May, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a list of factors for school districts to consider, including phased re-openings, staggered scheduling and social distancing protocols.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued guidance for school districts.