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ATPE Reacts to Preview of TEA’s Health Guidance for Next School Year

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 6/23/2020

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 23, drafts began circulating of what the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is calling its “Strong Start” plan—a document that is ultimately a set of suggestions for school districts to follow as they implement COVID-19 safety protocol to bring students and faculty back on campus.
In response, ATPE issued the following statement:
Earlier today, ATPE reviewed a draft of what Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and TEA are calling the “Strong Start” plan—a framework for school districts to follow as they implement COVID-19 safety protocols to bring students and faculty back to school. The draft comes after the governor’s announcement last week that students and teachers would be back in classrooms this fall.  

While the Commissioner has pledged to release the final guidance in the coming days, it’s clear from this draft that much is being left up to individual school districts to determine what works best for their local communities, with few state-level requirements beyond notice to parents and students of a district-adopted plan and protocol following a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19.  

Considering this, ATPE strongly urges the state to require stronger actions to ensure the safety of school employees and Texas students. ATPE also asks school districts to listen to their employees and the recommendations of medical experts regarding the impact of the pandemic in their area as they implement their back-to-school safety protocols. 

“Nothing in this guidance so far offers additional peace of mind for teachers, school district leaders, or parents,” said Shannon Holmes, ATPE Executive Director. “Elected school boards and superintendents now face a difficult balancing act between preventing COVID-19 outbreaks and ensuring children are in the most productive learning environment possible—a physical classroom with an in-person teacher. They deserve to have support and actionable guidance from the state of Texas.”   

According to a just-concluded survey of ATPE’s 2020 membership, more than 65% of ATPE members said their students were less engaged in learning when required to attend school virtually. This fact must be balanced with health and safety concerns, which are top-of-mind to a large portion of Texas educators, according to another recent ATPE survey, this one open to all Texas educators.  

The COVID-19 Educator Impact Survey, which focused on educators’ top concerns related to returning to campus during the pandemic, showed that more than 65% of the educators surveyed named the health and safety of students as a top concern. Sixty percent of respondents listed their personal health and safety, and more than 45% reported concern about student learning gaps and learning loss. 

ATPE is committed to ensuring the success of Texas educators and public schools, especially during these uncertain times. In early March, ATPE launched a COVID-19 resource and FAQ page at atpe.org/coronavirus. The webpage, one of the first COVID-19 resource webpages directed specifically toward Texas educators, lists government resources, breaking news, self-care resources and tips, and a comprehensive FAQ with fact-checked answers to common questions on everything from district requirements, health and employment, and working with students. 

In addition, ATPE staff have been engaged in daily communications with ATPE members, elected officials, agency staff, school district leaders, and other stakeholder groups to find solutions to the many challenges created by COVID-19. As an association representing approximately 100,000 educators across Texas, ATPE welcomes any opportunity to share input from our research with TEA as officials finalize their guidance. 

“Given the current trends related to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, it is impossible to predict the public health situation in August 2020,” said Holmes. “What we at ATPE can guarantee is that we will be with our members each step of the way, helping individual members navigate concerns related to policy decisions in their districts and championing the tremendous contributions of educators as essential workers in this crisis.” 
How ATPE Is Advocating for You
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ATPE has spoken out on your behalf, advocating for your health and safety and preservation of the most optimal learning environment possible:
  1. Since early March, our COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page has been a reliable source of information about educators’ rights and responsibilities in this public health crisis, as well as a source of distance learning and self-care resources.
  2. Our Teach the Vote advocacy blog has reported on COVID-19 legislation, policy initiatives, and waivers at the state and federal levels. ATPE’s staff members have done a deep dive on all communications and guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education since the crisis began, offering our analysis on the blog and using the information to update and add to our COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for educators. 
  3. Since the crisis began, ATPE’s staff have engaged in daily communications with our members affected by the pandemic, elected officials, agency staff, school district leaders, and other stakeholder groups working to find solutions to the many challenges created by COVID-19.
  4. ATPE lobbied at the state level for flexibility related to standardized testing and educator evaluations for the 2019-20 school year, as well as a moratorium on charter school expansion during this time. Our lobbyists are also currently pursuing avenues for additional flexibility that will help schools, educators, and students during the 2020-21 school year.
  5. At the federal level, ATPE has been lobbying Congress for funding and other resources to assist schools in meeting the needs of their students in these unusual times, as well as urging them to provide financial assistance and job security to educators affected by the pandemic. We have also fought efforts to divert federal emergency funds intended for public schools’ use toward other purposes and private entities.
  6. ATPE surveyed the entire Texas education community on their top concerns related to returning to campus during the pandemic. This information has been published on our websites, shared with policymakers, and reported widely in the media.
  7. In a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed, ATPE brought to the forefront critical unexamined questions related to initial TEA recommendations for school calendar changes.