AUSTIN, Texas - Austin Public Health discussed Tuesday possible plans to reopen schools in Travis County.
Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott says that there has been a substantial decrease in active COVID-19 cases, but that we still have a way to go.
"We want to get it much much lower as we want to troubleshoot getting our kids back in the classroom," says Escott.
Escott provided another update on COVID-19, elaborating on what the reopening of schools could possibly look like.
"It's likely the recommendation will include a phased reopening of schools, likely that we recommend opening schools to 25 percent of students in person and progressively allow more students in as the risk decreases in our community," he said.
Earlier this month, Dr. Escott issued an order saying school districts shouldn't reopen for in-person instruction until after September 7th.
"We really need to prioritize those K-5 and K-3 students primary kids because they really can't learn at home to get their educational needs because they lack digital devices or they lack the support at home for at-home learning," he said.
Dr. Escott says they have a schools and guidelines team that's working on risk-based guidelines and that the city is working on schools and algorithms to deal with a positive case, cluster or outbreak at school.
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They'll also provide enhanced guidance for the reopening plan in addition to TEA/UIL.
"We have to be able to match the number of teachers with the number of available students who are going to be in person. the teachers have expressed concern and are at a significantly higher risk than students. So there are young kids who are being hospitalized we're seeing cases of school-aged children who have died in other parts of the country but we expect those numbers to stay small," Escott said.
Also on Tuesday Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement saying in part, "school officials should decide when and how to open schools not local health authorities."
"Education of our children is an essential Texas value and there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening, the statement said. "While local health authorities may possess some authority to close schools in limited circumstances, they may not issue blanket orders closing all schools on a purely preventative basis. That decision rightfully remains with the school system leaders."
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath issued a statement in response to Paxton's statement, saying:
"As the Texas Attorney General's guidance letter of July 28, 2020 indicated: '...local health authorities may not issue blanket orders closing all schools in their jurisdiction….' The guidance letter further provides that health authority orders may not conflict with executive orders of the governor; they must apply control measures required by statute.
"As a state agency, we will follow the Attorney General's guidance. Consequently, a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction for an indefinite period of time. However, another valid funding exception may apply, such as a start-of-year transition period. For example, school systems may begin the year virtually under TEA funding waivers for up to four weeks, and subject to a vote of the local school board, can extend that for an additional four weeks. TEA will also continue to adjust its waivers as the situation warrants.
"Protecting the health of students, teachers, and staff remains our first priority."
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