What’s the latest on school reopening this fall?
We thought figuring out what to do about golf courses and
masks was a tough question. Those are simple puzzles compared to the
saga of public school re-opening procedures. The plan for public school
re-openings has changed at least four times this month. The governor’s
first few disaster orders closed down public schools indefinitely, but that
changed with his more recent one. The following guidance outlines the
plans and how they’ve changed:
1. On July 7, the Texas Education Agency released health
guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year. (The link to those original
guidelines is now deleted.) Among other things, the guidance required school
districts to offer daily on-campus instruction, but also allowed parents to
opt-in to virtual instruction from a school district that offered it.
2. On July 14, local health authorities – in conjunction with
school districts – began to take local action related to the fall school
start date. The authority for the City of Austin and Travis County issued an order that school districts should not
reopen schools for face-to-face instruction until after Sept. 7. Several
local health authorities around the state issued similar orders. After
initial resistance, the TEA at that time confirmed that local public health
officials could close schools for in-person instruction this
fall without losing state education funding, so long as they offered
online learning for all students.
3. On July 17, the TEA issued additional reopening guidance
that gave tacit approval to what the LHAs mentioned above had been
doing. (The link to those additional guidelines is now
deleted.) School systems would have been able to temporarily limit access
to on-campus instruction for the first four weeks of school. After the first
four weeks, a school system could have continued to limit access to on-campus
instruction for an additional four weeks, if needed, with a board-approved
waiver request to TEA.
4. On July 28, the attorney general stepped into the fray by
issuing “legal guidance” on school reopening. The guidance
letter concluded that “local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders
closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future COVID-19
infections.” As a legal matter, the “informal” letter should have been
irrelevant. “Should” being the operative word. Shortly after the
letter was released, the TEA once against revised its guidance to fall in line with the letter. The
guidance was updated in several places, but this is probably the most
“My Local Education Agency (LEA) was subject to a blanket
closure order issued by my local health authority. Will solely remote
instruction be funded for the time period of the order?
No. The Texas Attorney General issued a guidance letter on
July 28, 2020, that stated that “… local health authorities may not issue
blanket orders closing all schools in their jurisdiction on a purely
prophylactic basis.” The guidance letter further provides that health
authority orders may not conflict with executive orders of the governor and
must apply control measures required by statute. Consequently, a blanket
order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for
purposes of funding solely remote instruction as described in this document.
However, another valid funding exception may apply, such as a start-of-year
transition period as described further below, that would be available to the
LEA if it did not offer on-campus instruction.”
Some local health authorities, in conjunction with their
districts, may ignore the letter and TEA guidance and do what they believe
will protect teachers, students, and others. Because school opening is
largely governed by the local health authority, the state, and each
individual district, the League won’t report on it in great detail going
forward. As always, city (and county, health authority, and school for that
matter) officials should rely on the advice of their attorney, who has a
fiduciary and ethical responsibility to them.
What happened yesterday (July 28) with regard to the U.S.
Senate’s proposal for the next stimulus bill?
As we reported, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R –
KY) released the proposal yesterday afternoon (July 27). The bill is
called the HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and
Anyone who’s interested in the political aspects of the debate
can glean them from their preferred news outlet. But the key takeaway
for cities is that the bill doesn’t include additional aid to states and
local governments. However, it would expand the ways in which a city can
use CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) funds.
The liability protection section of the bill (on page 14)
appears to include cities in the afforded protections. Of course, a
final bill is still a long way off.
Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus
TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.