SAN ANTONIO – Two Texas teachers’ unions are rebuking the state education commissioner’s plan that students can return to campus this fall despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers and The Texas State Teachers Association are cautioning against Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s return-to-campus plan, saying the safety of students and staff should take priority.
“Texas AFT says a big ‘Hell No’ to what looks like a return to normal in August,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said in a news release. “We are not in normal times. We won’t sacrifice our members and students for politics.”
TSTA said Gov. Greg Abbott is in too big of a hurry to get the state back in order, adding that he has rushed the reopening of restaurants, amusement parks and other businesses.
“For several days now, we have been seeing record numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Texas, but Gov. Greg Abbott apparently would like us to think we have this pandemic licked. Far from it,” TSTA President Noel Candelaria said in a statement.
The return to schools would put “millions of Texas school children, educators and their families and communities at risk,” he added.
Candelaria said when school campuses, which were shuttered in March, do decide to reopen, students, employees and visitors should be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken.
On Thursday, Texas Education Agency spokesperson Frank Ward told the Texas Tribune that school districts will not be required to mandate masks or COVID-19 tests. Districts will be able to make their own rules on face coverings.
Gov. Greg Abbott told state lawmakers about Morath’s plan Thursday morning.
Morath’s plan states that parents uncomfortable with the at-campus format can choose to keep them at home. The plan will be updated next week with more guidance for school districts on how it will work, the Associated Press reported.
“It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall,” Morath said. “But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses.”
Abbott ordered schools closed March 19, sending more than 5 million students into distance-learning programs to finish the spring semester and canceling standardized testing. Abbott allowed districts to hold in-person summer school courses with strict social distancing guidelines, but only a few have chosen to do so.
Texas health officials have reported an uptick in cases and hospitalizations this week. A total of 2,947 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals being treated for the virus, as of Thursday.