More reopening guidelines from state leaders lead to more confusion for North Texas school districts

Governor Greg Abbott and other elected officials offered up some clarification on state guidelines for Texas school districts as they prepare to reopen this fall.

In a statement issued Friday, the governor said local school boards can decide how to open schools in August, September or even later as long as they provide the necessary number of days and hours of instruction.

State officials also clarified requirements for starting the school year virtually.

According to TEA guidelines, school districts can start school with four weeks of virtual-only instruction. They can extend that to up to eight weeks after receiving a waiver from TEA.

The governor also clarified how and when districts and public health authorities can shut down schools.

North Texas school districts trying to make tough decisions on reopening as some local public health orders are at odds with the state.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Superintendent Dr. Robin Ryan explained to board trustees Friday the ever-changing situation as superintendents across the state look to the TEA for guidance on reopening schools.

“I know that we’re all wishing we could have one plan and stick with it. But that’s just not our current reality. Things continue to change,” Dr. Ryan said. "At each meeting, we had new guidance and new rules were disseminated to school leader. Sometimes, the rules are drastically different than what we’d known before.”

Confusion expanded when the TEA said local health authorities could order districts to restrict in-person learning as a precaution.

The attorney general then said a preventative health order was not valid.

Now, the governor released a statement clarifying what’s required, saying school districts can start with remote-learning only for four weeks. With a TEA waiver, the can extend that another four weeks.

If districts need an extension beyond eight weeks due to COVID-19, the TEA will review each request on a case-by-case basis.

Like some districts, Forney ISD has chosen to offer both in-person and online options for learning when school starts Aug 17.

The district hosted two virtual town halls for parents to understand expectations and safety protocols for both options from requiring masks while entering and leaving classrooms to limiting the number of students going to recess at a time and limiting contact. 

“This is going to be a very fluid year,” said Forney ISD Superintendent Dr. Justin Terry. “And with the amount of teachers and students we’re trying to manage, it’s very difficult to change a master schedule constantly.”

State leaders say local school districts also have the ability to shut down campuses if there’s a positive COVID-19 for up to five days to sanitize the campus. Districts will continue to be funded if they need to switch to remote-only under those circumstances.

District leaders stress the situation is constantly changing, and current plans could change between now and the start of school.

We want to get back to normal,” Dr. Ryan said. “But when we get back to normal, it’s going to be a new normal. The old normal, there’s no such thing as that anymore.”

The Texas State Teacher’s Association is urging the state to prohibit school districts from starting school in person or virtually before Sept. 8, saying districts who choose to provide online-only instruction should not lose state funding.