AUSTIN, Texas—The presidents of Texas AFT and the American Federation of Teachers called on Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency today to require every school district in the state to submit a detailed reopening plan outlining how they will safeguard students and staff from the spread of COVID-19. The call comes on the heels of the governor’s announcement last week that Texas public schools will reopen in the fall, with no information on proposed health and safety measures, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in a number of communities across the state.
According to the governor’s announcement, schools will reopen in the fall and the state will not require masks or testing. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath claims it will be safe for everyone to return to school campuses. “This has left parents, students and teachers with more questions than answers,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.
“We want to see kids return to school in some way, but prudence requires that there be a health and safety plan in place to reduce the chances of spreading the deadly virus,” Capo said. “The state should require every district to develop a real plan for safely reopening their schools and file it with the Texas Education Agency.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said a rushed reopening without committed attention to the health and safety of students and staff would be reckless.
“Make no mistake about it: Educators are eager to return to their classrooms and teach their students in person, but they don’t want to do it without a plan that adequately protects everyone and provides the resources to make sure schools don’t become the new hot spots of transmission,” Weingarten said. “A no-mask, no-testing, no-worries attitude is exactly what will spread the virus.”
Capo and Weingarten said they are anxiously awaiting the state’s further guidance, scheduled for Tuesday, to see if any of their concerns are addressed, and will respond in a telephone press conference on Wednesday.
The AFT is recommending that each district’s reopening plan be framed using the five pillars laid out in the AFT’s “A Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities”:
- Maintain physical distance until the numbers of new cases decline for at least 14 consecutive days.
- Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases.
- Deploy public health tools that prevent the spread of the virus, and align them with educational strategies that meet the needs of students.
- Involve workers, unions, parents and the community in all reopening planning.
- Invest in public health and in schools so that America’s communities and their futures are not abandoned.
Capo said because of massive education budget cuts, tackling physical distancing, masks and everything else that a district deems necessary to safely open will take funding and thoughtful precautions.
“We’re still learning how this virus spreads in young people and still figuring out the best ways to protect educators who have kept our students safe and engaged through remote learning for the last three months. A rushed reopening without preventions says: Your health and safety don’t matter,” Capo said.