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Texas schools can hold summer classes, but students can’t be required to attend in person

A classroom in Cactus Elementary School in Cactus on Jan. 28, 2020.      Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
A classroom in Cactus Elementary School in Cactus on Jan. 28, 2020. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Texas public school districts may offer summer school in their classrooms as early as June 1, but cannot require any students to attend in person.

Gov. Greg Abbott in April ordered all school buildings closed through the end of the academic year, but announced Monday that districts could offer in-person summer school. The decision came as part of his second wave of the economic jumpstart during the coronavirus pandemic, with parents struggling to figure out how to work and take care of their children.

The state is encouraging school districts to prioritize making on-campus summer school available for their most vulnerable students, including special needs students who cannot learn virtually, homeless students and students with significant academic gaps. Many of those students have been left behind during the academic year, as school districts struggled to ramp up instruction quickly once the pandemic hit.

School districts must use their best judgment, based on the local spread of the pandemic, to decide whether to offer summer school on campus, according to guidance from the Texas Education Agency issued Monday. And they cannot make in-person attendance mandatory, even for students who need to attend summer school to move to the next grade.

Staff or students who go back to school buildings this summer will experience a marked change from the typical summer school. Teachers will have to take students' temperatures every day, students will be supervised while washing their hands for 20 seconds twice a day, and dividers will separate student desks.

Any students and staff who attend summer school in person must stay six feet apart and not meet in groups larger than 11. School districts are encouraged to stagger school start and end times, to reduce the number of students walking close together in the hallways, and parents are encouraged to stay outside to pick up and drop off their children.

Students cannot attend assemblies, go on field trips or gather in groups outside of individual classes unless 30 feet can be kept between groups. A positive COVID-19 case in a school will require a two-week closure of the classes that were exposed to the sick person. School gyms, weight rooms and indoor workout facilities cannot reopen, but students can participate in some outdoor sports as long as they follow Department of State Health Services guidance.

School districts have been writing up back up plans for their back up plans as they wait to see how and whether coronavirus continues to spread this summer and spring.