Day: <span>August 10, 2020</span>

When are four weeks of virtual-only learning not four weeks of virtual-only learning?

You may have been reading news reports about how school districts can provide virtual-only learning for the first four weeks of the fall semester – eight weeks, with a state waiver – to protect students and educators from exposure as thousands of Texans continue to contract the often-deadly coronavirus.

That means, even if districts are beginning school this week or next, as many are, there will be a built-in safety cushion. Or so the governor and the Texas Education Agency would like us to believe. But with the health of 5.5 million school kids and more than 600,000 school employees and their families on the line, the arbitrary deadlines imposed on districts by TEA amount to little more than a politically driven guessing game. No one really knows when it will be safe to reopen school doors.

Also often lost in the headlines and news summaries is the fact that, four-week virtual guidelines notwithstanding, districts will have to provide in-person classroom instruction on the first day of school to any students who request it — or risk losing state funding. That requirement is also in the TEA directives, and it means there will have to be enough teachers and support staff on school campuses from day one to meet the demand for in-person instruction, regardless of how large it may be.

Also missing from some news reports is the additional fact that some districts are requiring teachers to provide their virtual instruction from their classrooms, not from their homes. The students can stay home, where it is easier to avoid the pandemic, but not the teachers.

The scary situation facing Texas educators right now makes for something of a riddle, and not an amusing one. When are four weeks of virtual-only learning not really four weeks of virtual-only learning? The answer: When Gov. Abbott and the Texas Education Agency have something to do with it.

The governor needs to stop the dangerous guessing game and issue an order prohibiting any more school openings until after Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. After that date, districts should be allowed to reopen buildings to in-person instruction only after consultation with local health authorities, school employees and parents and with strict safety standards enforced. Districts that choose to provide only online instruction must not be penalized with a loss of state funding.

Clay Robison