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Texas K-12 Schools Weigh Reopening Plans As State Lifts Mask Order, Announces Teacher Vaccine Eligibility

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COVID-19 upended all aspects of life in the U.S. and K-12 schools were especially hard hit.

In Texas, schools were largely on their own when it came to decisions about facilitating in-person, hybrid and remote learning options, and are now tasked with weighing when to reopen schools and how to do so safely amid the ongoing pandemic.

Over the past year, administrators grappled with ever-changing health guidance, as well as funding and staffing concerns. Teachers — who were stretched thin before the emergence of COVID-19 — have been asked to juggle a variety of learning models simultaneously, while also fearing for their own health safety. Parents across the country stepped up to help with remote learning.

Many households struggled to access the necessary technologies for kids to learn from home. Districts saw absenteeism soar, and questions remain about how absenteeism will affect state funding for schools; how to test and grade students during the pandemic; what to do about K-12 learning loss.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his rescission of the state's mask mandate and business capacity limits on Tuesday. That includes schools. But so far, many schools in San Antonio and Bexar County plan to keep mask requirements in place.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated its public health planning guidance on Wednesday, which continues to recommend wearing face masks in school buildings, but says individual school boards will be allowed to make their own decisions about mask policies.

Also on Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that educators and child-care workers are now immediately eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. A recent poll commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association found that 80% of likely Texas voters supported classifying teachers as essential workers so they can get vaccinated.

What does all this mean for K-12 reopening plans? Will schools phase students back into classrooms and if so, who will be first in line? What health and safety measures should be implemented on campuses?

Will teachers feel better about in-person instruction once they're vaccinated? How do parents feel about sending their kids back to school? How can state and local leaders support schools' efforts to reopen safely?

How have school districts across the country responded to COVID-19 and adapted to meet student needs during the pandemic? How has this behavior changed over the past year and what are the implications for student learning?

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*This interview was recorded on Thursday, March 4.