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Texas Extends Time Districts Can Offer Remote Instruction

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The Texas Education Agency has given the state’s public schools permission to keep students learning remotely for up to eight weeks this fall.

New guidance issued Friday allows districts to start the school year remotely during a four week transition period. An additional four weeks will be granted with a waiver from the state, if requested by local school boards.

The new guidance comes after more than a week of intense pushback from teachers and district leaders, concerned that schools were required to provide in-person learning amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the state.

“Every school that needs it can adopt a four-week back-to-school transition window, where instruction can be fully virtual if need be,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Friday in a video released to the public. “This should give us time to work collectively to flatten the curve on this epidemic.”

However, even during the four-week transition period, TEA said any family that lacks the technology to participate in virtual learning must be given access to on-campus instruction.

Several Bexar County school districts have approved funding for additional tablets and hotspots in recent weeks to ensure students have access to online learning.

TEA will also fund remote instruction any time local health officials order schools closed. San Antonio Metro Health has formed a task force to consider a school closure recommendation.

Initial public health guidelines released by TEA last week gave districts three weeks to transition to in-person learning and required campuses to give all families the option of in-person learning five days a week.

In addition to the longer ramp-up period, the new rules released Friday allow high schools to limit in-person attendance to alternating days; a hybrid model that enables greater social distancing.

TEA’s new guidelines also confirm that local school boards have the authority to push back the start of the school year.

The Association of Texas Professional Educators said Friday it appreciates the additional flexibility provided by TEA but believes it is insufficient.

“ATPE remains alarmed by the subjectivity, arbitrariness and overall lack of science-based metrics presented by this plan,” the teacher group said in a statement. “The new guidance fails to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through our schools — especially in areas where cases continue to rise — as it requires schools to offer in-person instruction to students who need and request it every day of the school year, even during the transition period.”

Several Bexar County school systems, including Northside, North East, Southside, San Antonio ISD, Pre-K 4 SA and the Compass Rose charter network announced plans to start the school year using remote learning earlier this week, delaying a return to the campus until at least after Labor Day.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

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