As the beginning of the school year approaches, Texas parents want two things — clarity and choice. We want to know what schools will be offering in the fall, and we want a say in what our children will be doing.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s new legal guidance on school reopening is helping provide both.
Parents are tired of the conflicting reports about in-school start dates, online-only options and whether schools will reopen in the fall at all.
When schools shut down in March, thrusting parents into the roles of teacher, coach and tutor, we were told it would be temporary. Then we were told it wasn’t, at least for the 2019-20 school year.
And so we’ve waited, as the “summer slide” has become a COVID-19 roller coaster — educationally, socially and emotionally for our kids.
Paxton’s new guidance will help. He said that local health authorities have limited powers and cannot usurp the decision-making process for local schools (and for Texas parents).
As Paxton notes, “nothing in the law gives health authorities the power to indiscriminately close schools — public or private — as these local orders claim to do.”
The prevailing law, he says, remains Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, which specifically says local governments — including schools — are permitted to open (and without capacity restrictions).
The decision on whether schools will reopen in the fall, therefore, must be made by a local district’s board of trustees — not unelected health authorities.
These are difficult and unprecedented times, Paxton concludes, and these are difficult decisions. No one feels this more than Texas parents. In Tarrant County, parents recently protested the pushing back of start dates to Sept. 28 or later.
For some, online-only schooling simply hasn’t worked. Parents of many special needs kids say they’re desperate to get their children back into in-person school.
As Rep. Dan Huberty, chair of the Texas House Committee on Public Education, has written, “This most vulnerable student population have (sic) not been in school for six months and desperately need to receive services as prescribed by their IEP (Individual Education Plan).”
Other vulnerable populations that will suffer if schools don’t reopen in person include rural students, who might lack the internet access of their urban and suburban peers, and students in foster care and those whose families are experiencing homelessness, Huberty adds. In the discussion of the acknowledged health concerns, these students’ needs must be weighed, too.
Some parents can afford to seek other options (some are already setting up “pandemic pods” to ensure their children are adequately educated). But many of the most vulnerable students among us rely on public schools to meet their needs. Recent polling conducted by WPA Intelligence shows that most parents — 59 percent — want the choice between in-person and online schooling.
On the other hand, some students and families find they thrive in an online-only learning environment. The real point here is that families need to be making these decisions.
And that’s precisely what the Texas Education Agency established earlier this summer as the new standard. Public schools in Texas will be required to offer both online instruction and in-person classes (districts may delay the start date, within reason).
Ultimately, it must be we the parents who decide how our children are educated. Texas Attorney General Paxton’s legal guidance makes that clear — and more assured.