Before students and school district personnel get too excited about Executive Order GA-34 issued Tuesday which lifts the mask mandate and operational restrictions in Texas starting March 10, they will want to note that GA-34 provides TEA with the legal authority to publish requirements for the operation of public school systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. TEA Wednesday afternoon, March 3, updated the “School Year 2020-2021 Public Health Planning Guidance,” providing 12 pages of guidance that place the responsibility for developing a COVID-19 plan with school systems, including use of masks at school.
“Under this updated guidance, a public school system’s current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy,” TEA stated in a March 3 news release.
TEA is recommending that public school systems consult with their local public health authorities and local legal counsel before making final decisions regarding the implementation of the guidance, which addresses on campus and virtual instruction; administrative activities by teachers, staff, or students that occur on school campuses or virtually; non-UIL extracurricular sports and activities; any other activities that teachers, staff, or students must complete that cannot be accomplished virtually; and visits by parents and the general public.
After-school providers and other programs that operate in conjunction with school campuses are recommended to follow TEA’s guidance in coordination with the campuses they serve.
The plan for on-campus activities and instruction “should be developed in consultation with teachers, staff, and parents to ensure the plan provides for the safety of teachers, staff, and students. Neither this summary document nor any local school systems’ reopening plans are subject to approval by any government entity,” the TEA guidance notes.
TEA still recommends following the CDC’s amended guidance, issued Dec. 2, 2020, regarding stay-at-home periods for those who have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Those in “close contact” should stay home for 10 days after exposure without a COVID-19 test or stay home 7 days after close contact with a negative COVID-19 test result.
"The CDC has also advised that critical infrastructure services—which includes schools—may
permit close contact staff members who are asymptomatic to continue to work in select instances
when it is necessary to preserve school operations. Per the CDC, this option should be used only in
limited circumstances. When using this option, school systems may consider adding additional
protocols to increase monitoring for these individuals, which might include the use of COVID-19 tests
(e.g., on Day 3 and/or Day 7 after the close contact exposure)," the TEA document stated
TEA notes that evidence suggests COVID-19 isn’t easily spread on surfaces, so increased cleaning practices may not help reduce the spread of it, so campuses can use more frequent cleaning practices by janitorial staff, if they choose to do so.
The guidelines for use of masks at schools and school activities in the TEA document are as follows: