AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Education Agency updated its requirements for school districts to receive funding when classes begin in the fall this year, making solely-virtual education a possibility.
Previously, the TEA required school districts to offer at least some form of in-person learning in order to receive funding from the state, with a three-week transition period. On Wednesday, the education agency updated that policy to make an exception for districts where local health authorities have prohibited in-person lessons.
Districts cannot make the decision to go completely virtual on their own, however.
“Texas school districts are fully funded for total remote instruction in the event their local health authority orders closure of campuses,” a TEA spokesperson said.
The TEA explained as it stands right now, if a county health authority has not ordered any closure or prohibition of in-person instruction, then a three-week phased-in window would still remain.
Earlier Wednesday morning, teachers lined the perimeter of the Capitol, socially distanced from each other, to voice their concerns about returning to classes in person.
“Consider allowing us to have virtual schooling for longer so that we’re able to go back to school and the kids are safe and the teachers are safe,” teacher Laurie Boyd requested Wednesday morning. Now, that will be an option, but that doesn’t solve all the issues presented by school staff.
“There are a lot of auxiliary expenses connected with this, particularly for some school districts that do not have access to remote learning or do not have devices. You know, the federal government found a lot of money for the private sector during COVID-19. We are not getting any significant money to help us solve this problem,” superintendent Tom Leonard said at the protest Wednesday.
Last week, Governor Greg Abbott said schools will be able to shut down for five days if someone tests positive for COVID-19, “To make sure that the school is sanitized, but also to make sure nobody else is testing positive.”
The TEA said local districts will decide how those days will be made up. The agency is encouraging districts to stay flexible with scheduling.
“[The TEA] has encouraged all districts to develop a 2020-21 calendar that accounts for any possible COVID-related closures,” the agency said in a statement. “This will enable districts to have flexibility and ensure student safety while still fulfilling the 75,600 operational minute requirement.”
“I love my job. I love my kids. I want to get back to teaching them but I don’t want to go back until it’s safe,” Boyd said Wednesday.
The TEA is expected to release more information on the state’s fall learning plans on Thursday, July 16.
Photojournalist Julie Karam contributed to this report.