AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Education Agency has changed its guidance to allow school campuses with COVID-19 outbreaks among staff members to move students back to remote learning.
"This pandemic has already taken educator's lives and we don't want another one. We don't want one more bus driver, custodian, cafeteria worker, teacher to die because we are in an unsafe situation," said Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.
Since the fall, school districts have been able to apply for waivers from the TEA to opt-out of in-person learning in certain scenarios. That way a district's funding wouldn't be affected if one of their school campuses needed to quickly move students back to online classes.
But TSTA said sometimes the guidance was confusing for educators, like when TEA said a COVID-19 outbreak among staff could only allow for five days of remote learning at a school campus.
"We have brought up the fact that science says that it should be 14 days at a minimum. And so we were wondering, ever since they put out the original guidelines, as to where they got the five days to say that that would be okay to sort of keeping everybody safe," Molina said.
Now, TEA has changed that guidance, allowing a full 14 days of remote learning during a staff outbreak, but only if the outbreak "impacts a significant number of instructional staff such that on-campus instruction may temporarily no longer be feasible."
If districts don't follow TEA guidance, their funding can be affected.
"There's always a stipulation as to how the district, who thinks they're doing something for safety, in how they're supposed to do it. So the governor says, 'No, the districts have control,' TEA saying, 'No, we've given them the control. They can sign up for waivers.' But we're finding out that those waivers are being denied," said Molina.
Several school districts in Texas found that remote learning led to increased absences, more students failing classes, and less accountability.
TSTA said teachers are working on more engaging lesson plans and communication systems to check in with students while they're learning from home. They explained educators do want to bring all students back eventually, just not while COVID-19 cases are trending in the wrong direction.
"The reality is, there is no replacing in-person learning, but, during a pandemic, we're just trying to keep everybody safe and alive," Molina said.