School officials are finding themselves in quite the quandary as educators prepare for another year of uncertainties.
Covid-19 cases, especially those of the highly contagious delta variant, are increasing at an alarming rate. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a mandate making it illegal for schools to require masks. Funding for distance learning failed to pass the Texas Legislature, and unlike last year, there is no guarantee the state will not withhold funding when attendance drops.
So what are schools to do when another round of Covid-19 circulates through unvaccinated students as it most likely will as soon as children return to the confines of classrooms? Students with the virus hopefully will be sent home, but what about others in the classroom? It is unlikely that quarantines of entire classrooms will take place as was the case this past year unless the Texas Education Agency again issues a ruling to continue funding schools at normal attendance rates even though attendance drops.
And what about distance learning? Without funding, districts have removed the option although both teachers and students have almost a year of virtual learning experience behind them. In a front-page article in The Paris News on Thursday, Clarksville ISD Superintendent Kermit Ward said although a distance learning option is off the table this year, the tool still remains an option for districts to use when needed. There is just no funding for it, and as was the case a year ago, not all students have access to the internet and still others do not do well in an unstructured environment.
In the same article, North Lamar ISD Superintendent Kelli Stewart said her district will continue health protocols to include hand-sanitizing stations, routine cleaning of classrooms and buses as well as deep cleaning in the event of illness. Paris ISD Superintendent Paul Jones said his district will continue working with the Paris-Lamar County Health District to make decisions and will follow all protocols established by the Texas Education Agency as they are established during the year.
On Friday, the local health district issued a strong recommendation that staff, students and parents wear masks at school, on the bus and at extracurricular activities, and that schools follow 10-day quarantine guidelines still in place. The memo also stated the health district will be conducting contact tracing on all Covid-19 cases and will appreciate the assistance of school nursing teams in that work. Expect a mask recommendation from districts without the power to enforce.
I am encouraged to see that a group of about 30 Texas lawmakers realized the quandary schools face and last week penned a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and Gov. Abbott to reconsider Covid-19 safety regulations to require masks at school and to allow a virtual learning option for students.
Hopefully schools will get the reassurance, and funding, from the state to keep students as safe as possible and at the same time continue a meaningful educational experience.