Contact tracing will not be required in school districts this year, according to new guidelines released Thursday, Aug. 5, by the Texas Education Agency. Also, students who are sick with COVID-19 will be allowed to learn remotely for up to 20 days with the ability to apply for a waiver if more time is needed.
The TEA said it eliminated contact tracing requirements because the data from 2020-21 showed “very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting.” Also, data from the previous year demonstrated lower transmission rates among children than adults.
Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen said the district “is still processing implications of the new information” when contacted for comment Friday, Aug. 6. An announcement about implications for MFISD should be available by Monday, Aug. 9, he said.
The same is true for the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District, Superintendent Keith McBurnett said.
“We shared with our parents that we will be publishing our return to school plan on Monday,” he said in an email.
Many school districts statewide, including Marble Falls and Burnet, discontinued remote learning because of a lack of funding from either the state or federal government for the new year. A bill to fund remote learning died in the last days of the regular session of the Texas Legislature.
Some districts, including Austin Independent School District, are providing remote learning on request from parents for prekindergarten through sixth grades as the students are too young to qualify for vaccination.
During the 2020-21 school year — the height of the pandemic — the TEA allowed schools to count remote learners as attending school. Schools receive a certain amount of money per student based on daily attendance numbers. The emergency authority for the TEA to count remote learners is no longer in place.
Schools cannot mandate the wearing of masks but can encourage students and staff to wear them. No one will be told they cannot wear a mask, both local superintendents said in interviews for a story in the August issue of The Picayune Magazine.
Schools also cannot mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. Both the mask and vaccination rules are part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order (GA-38), issued July 29.
“Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19,” the governor said. “They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities. Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary — never forced — in the State of Texas.”
The delta variant of the virus is now causing another wave of COVID-19 cases, according to officials at the Texas Department of State Health Services. The agency stressed the importance of getting vaccinated to fight the spread of the disease.