July 6, 2020
The Honorable Greg Abbott
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711-2428
Dear Governor Abbott:
Recently, Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency Mike Morath called for our public schools to reopen in the fall. However, there was not a requirement to practice the basic safeguards, for our students and teachers to be safe from spread of the COVID-19 virus. Though each school district will have flexibility in developing its own guidelines for the new school year, by making face coverings optional and not mandating virus testing, we leave people in the classroom vulnerable.
The COVID-19 virus is dangerous and has fatal consequences. The steep spikes of cases around the state attest to the severity of this pandemic. Evidence based on scientific research and community experience inform us that unprotected contact with others can drastically increase the likelihood of contracting the virus. In fact, your recent mandate requiring the use of facemasks is based on mounting evidence that personal protective equipment has the ability to reduce exposure to COVID-19.
While it appears parents can opt out of face-to-face instruction and arrange for their children to learn from home, some parents who do not have another alternative could be confronted with sending their children to what they perceive as an unsafe environment. Many of these parents may indeed be teachers and public school personnel who are mandated to return to their jobs.
In counties, such as in Bexar where you have multiple school districts, and each with potentially different reopening plans, there is a possibility of conflicting policies that may reduce the overall effectiveness of curbing the mass community spread of COVID-19. In addition, district employees whose own children attend school in a different district with lax restrictions, could then spread the virus at a school with tighter health protections.
Parents entrust their children to our public schools, and voters bestow upon their elected leaders the faith that they would act for the good of all. We need to go above and beyond to protect our over 5.5 million public school students and our over 300,000 educators. As much as many would like to return to the way things were six months ago, these are not normal times. It is unfair to teachers, staff, and families to enact policy that is incongruent with the current situation and puts them in danger’s way.
We are one Texas. We can all thrive together. For that to happen, we must all act wisely and in concert. We must have clear and timely communication from our top leaders to implement and support rigorous safety measures in our schools, before we recommend they open. I appreciate your consideration of these concerns.