By ALIYYA SWABY
The Texas Tribune
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told school superintendents and lawmakers Sunday to be prepared for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the new coronavirus has spread.
According to individuals who participated in two separate conference calls with the commissioner, Morath said he would still leave the decision up to local superintendents. This comes as hundreds of school districts announced they would suspend classes for at least a week, with concerns about COVID-19 spreading through their communities.
Morath suggested superintendents consider telling parents sooner rather than later that closures would stretch beyond a few weeks. The extended school closures would be a burden for low-income and working parents, who would more likely struggle to keep their children home for long periods of time.
The state has already said school districts with prolonged school closures due to coronavirus concerns may avoid financial penalties, as long as they can prove they are teaching students remotely. But not all school districts have the experience or resources needed to offer remote instruction, and many students lack access to consistent internet at home.
Especially if schools close through the end of the year, many students would be at home during the administration of the state standardized test, known as STAAR, planned in April. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has called for the state to cancel the test, since school districts have limited classroom instruction.
The federal government plans to offer waivers from testing requirements for areas heavily impacted by the disease. Morath said on Sunday’s call that he would put out more specific guidance earlier than this Thursday.
As of noon on Sunday, there are 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas, including 12 reported cases from the federal quarantine area at Lackland Air Force Base – though the number of actual cases could be much higher since only a small number of tests have been available.
Sunday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a guidance suggesting that organizers cancel or postpone any in-person events that include 50 people or more scheduled for the next eight weeks. That guidance was only a recommendation, however, and did not pertain to schools.
Texas Education Agency waives STAAR test requirements
In an unprecedented move, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he would waive testing requirements for this year’s STAAR exam, as many schools expect to be closed at least through the April testing window, due to the new coronavirus.
He also said he would ask the federal government to waive this year’s federal standardized testing requirements, which apply to all states. According to the state, as of Sunday afternoon, 569 school districts had announced closures due to coronavirus concerns. Texas is not alone, since more than 30 states have closed schools due to coronavirus, affecting at least 30 million public school students nationwide.
The governor’s announcement comes a day after Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers on two separate phone calls to prepare for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the new coronavirus has spread.
Lawmakers from both parties, as well as school superintendents, had been calling on the state to cancel the test since it became clear students would miss many days of school, when districts started extending their spring breaks for a week or two.
This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/15/texas-public-schools-closure-coronavirus/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.