Any public school district in Texas can declare that it is going the online-only instruction route — for the first four weeks, according to the latest update from the Texas Education Agency. Districts like Houston ISD and several other area school districts that had intended to go longer will then be able to reapply for a second four weeks of virtual-only instruction.
The exceptions during this time are for students who do not have internet access or a computer to access distance learning at home. School districts will have to provide some other in-person way for them to begin and continue in their classes. Earlier TEA regulations would have allowed for only a first three weeks of virtual classes, in line with President Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's desires to see kids back on campus.
"We know that there are parents who are nervous and who want to keep their children home," TEA Commissioner says in a video released Friday. "We also know that the on-campus instructional environment is invaluable and a child's academic and social growth flourishes in a Texas public school."
By allowing four weeks of virtual classes, Morath says the hope is that the additional time will allow the spread of coronavirus cases to flatten out. But if it doesn't, districts who successfully demonstrate they need more time away from campus will be allowed to do so.
Houston ISD has delayed the start of this school year until September 8 and planned to stay in virtual classes through Friday, October 16 with on-campus instruction very tentatively set to resume on Monday, October 19.
In acknowledgement of the already demonstrated technological divide that stranded many students without instruction in the spring, state leaders announced Friday that Texas will allocate $200 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to the TEA "for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for Texas students that lack connectivity."
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This money is in addition to the $400 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds already given to the districts for COVID-19 expenses during the 2019-20 school year.
"As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction," said Abbott in a press release. "As we continue to combat COVID-19 in Texas, we are committed to providing reliable and effective solutions that will help students academically succeed while protecting public health."
Here's the latest from the Texas Education Agency: