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Harris County orders schools closed until Sept. 8

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Many other counties have also ordered schools to push back their start dates for in-person learning. Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune

Texas' most populous county ordered Friday that all public and non-religious private schools stay closed and provide online learning until after Labor Day due to concern over the continued spread of the coronavirus.

A joint public health order from Harris County and city of Houston health officials states schools must remain closed until at least Sept. 8. But the order could be extended beyond that date, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

"We are all desperate to move on from this crisis and get life back to normal. September 8 is still likely too soon, but the truth is, the fastest way we can all work together to bring this virus under control, the sooner we will be in a position to reopen again for the long term,” Hidalgo said in a written statement.

Hidalgo said reopening schools now would be "self-defeating" as the number of people infected with and hospitalized with the virus continues to reach record highs in parts of the state.

“We cannot talk about sending our children, teachers, and staff back to school when the virus is spreading uncontrollably in our community,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in a written statement. “We are at a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19, and we must take a step back and work to lower the positivity rate and hospitalizations."

Last week the Texas Education Agency confirmed schools can remain closed for longer than three weeks and continue getting funding from the state as long as they offer remote instruction to all students and have a mandate from their local public health officials.

The move came after pushback from teachers, parents and schools confused about wavering guidance from TEA and concerned about the safety of reopening.

Other Texas counties that will require online learning for the initial weeks of the school year include Travis County, Tarrant County, Dallas County and El Paso County.

The Harris County order comes a week after Harris County officials recommended schools delay in-person teaching until at least October. Houston ISD has already said that it plans to start the year with six weeks of virtual classes right after Labor Day, subject to change if state or local officials issue other guidance.