WACO, TX — School district across Texas will now have the option to utilize virtual learning for up to 14 days if they have confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus. They also can move to 100% virtual learning if there are staffing shortages.
The Texas Education Agency made these updates to their guidelines as school districts across Central Texas continue to close due to coronavirus infections and staffing shortages.
While this change is welcomed by Waco ISD, which has had seven campuses close due to COVID-19 and staffing shortages, Texas State Teachers Association member and Killeen Educators Association president Rick Beaulé says these guidelines are too little too late.
“It’s an acknowledgment of reality rather than a science-based decision. You noticed that they didn’t make that choice. They didn’t make that guidance. They didn’t issue it until school districts had to start doing it," he said.
This change comes as school districts large and small are faced with coronavirus infections, leaving some operating with minimal employees. Here in Central Texas, Waco ISD Chief of Staff Kyle DeBeer says their district has already used the 14-day remote waiver before it was officially announced.
“We’ve actually in two cases already taken advantage of the 14 day fully remote waiver, as the TEA refers to it. It’s great to know that it’s a tool available to us, but I don’t think it changes necessarily how we look at making their individual decision on whether or not to close a campus. It just helps us know that if we need to take the full 14 days to match up with the quarantine for employees, then that’s available for us to do that," he said.
In-person learning has proven to be a challenge with teachers in and out of quarantine, so the option to move to 100% virtual learning is now on the table, but the school must notify the TEA first.
The changing regulations have proven to be a challenge for teachers who've studied under Dr. Shelly Harris, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at A&M Central Texas.
“They have definitely expressed to me the impact COVID, as well as just the uncertainty, rules, the health organizations. District policies are changing almost daily," she said.
Dr. Harris says the changing regulations not only have an effect on the student but on the teachers too.
“The desire to teach and help students is there, but with uncertain times and really, honestly confusion of what’s going on, ultimately impacts, I think, the teacher's success in being able to deliver to content," she said.
Though its an addition to the already extensive list of requirements school districts have to follow, DeBeer says these guidelines give Waco ISD a little more wiggle room.
“We want our families to understand how those decisions are being made. We are being completely transparent about the number of staff members that are out, when we need to make those decisions and what's changed to move from where we are in a place where we can operate a campus to where we need to switch to fully remote instruction,” he said.
DeBeer says all seven Waco ISD schools that were closed are expected to reopen after the Thanksgiving break on November 30 .
The TEA has also updated their Calendar and Minutes FAQ’s, saying if a local education agency chooses to go virtual but does not follow their guidelines, they will only be entitled to claim half the operational minutes for every instructional day they are out of compliance, adding
"Depending upon the nature of the non-compliance, additional corrective actions may be required."