Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) Information
View the list of confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Texas here.
TEA Letters to Confirm Positive Coronavirus Cases:
In the spring, the TEA released sample letters to help districts and schools communicate with parents. These may be found here:
These were released when schools were closing, but you may want to use some of this language in your own communications in consultation with your school attorney. The local health authority will also be instrumental in helping direct these communications once a confirmed case is found on campus.
Statewide Executive Orders
PRIVATE SCHOOLS RELEASED FROM TEA GUIDELINES:
The most recent executive order (found here) states the following: “For the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, public schools may resume operations for the summer as provided by, and under the minimum standard health protocols found in, guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Private schools and institutions of higher education are encouraged to establish similar standards. Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, schools may conduct graduation ceremonies consistent with the minimum standard health protocols found in guidance issued by the TEA.”
What Does This Mean?:
This means that private schools may publish their own reopening standards. Two important things to keep in mind:
1. The TEA guidelines establish a standard of care. This means that to deviate from these guidelines too much may open your school to legal liability.
2. The executive order states explicitly that the private school plan should be “similar” to the TEA plan. This is a directive to stay as close to the TEA plan as possible while creating a reopening scenario that fits your individual campus.
All of the guidance established by the state, as well as helpful documents from the Centers for Disease Control and other entities, may be found below under “Reopenings.”
Please note that graduation guidance remains the same in the most recent executive order.
What About Accreditation?:
Some accreditation commissions have already released standards for their summer programs that are in progress. For example, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops release their summer program standards last week and they may be found here. Other accreditation commissions will likely have some direction for their schools. Please contact them for this information.
Fall Public School Guidance:
There is new TEA Health and Safety Guidance as of August 27th, 2020
The health and safety guidelines are here, some highlights:
- public schools must post plans for on-campus instruction,
- there are required screening protocols for everyone on campus,
- there is a required protocol if the virus is documented on campus that includes contacting the local health department, closing the affected area and cleaning, and notifying everyone in the community,
- masks are required according to the Governor’s latest executive order in counties with 20 or more active cases for children ages 10 or older,
- desks are required to be 6 feet apart when possible. If not possible, increased hand washing, sanitation, and air flow from the outside is recommended,
- schools must have an entry and exit plan,
- schools should reduce visitors on campus,
- schools should reduce staff congregation.
This is the guidance for public schools, and private schools were directed by the Governor to create their own plan. However, please remember that this document and any revisions thereafter are creating a standard of care for schoolchildren in Texas. Deviating greatly from these recommendations could result in increased liability for your school.
NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL GUIDANCE:
Attorney General Ken Paxton released another letter of guidance stating that local health authorities may not preemptively close any private school (religious or non-religious) due to threat of virus spread. The decision to open and close is up to local private school leaders. If outbreaks of an illness do occur in a school, then the health authority may take action.
Local Health Authorities vs. State Guidance:
More school reopening “recommendations” are being published every day from local health authorities. These include: San Antonio, Harris County, and Austin. The Dallas plan was released today. Information about free testing for residents of Dallas County is here. In a call yesterday, Judge Jenkins mentioned students and staff from open private schools as people who may want to take advantage of this free testing.
Some of these documents mention private schools specifically, others do not in light of the Attorney General’s letters of guidance allowing private schools to make reopening decisions for themselves. We are working on getting some clarification from the Governor, but he did make a statement on Twitter declaring that the Harris County judge is overstating her authority in this matter. Ten Houston area school districts signed a letter requesting the ability to open sooner than the Harris County plan allows.
Reopening Plan Reviews:
There were a few counties that published requirements that public and private schools submit reopening plans to their office for review. Under the TEA fall guidance, schools are not required to do this. It states, “neither this summary document nor any local school system’s reopening plans are subject to approval by any government entity.”
The mask order has caused concern with some private schools. We reached out to the Governor’s office for some clarification if this applies directly to private schools, and they recommended that the school consult its attorney to interpret this executive order for its individual campus.
I Wear a Mask Because:
If you are looking for resources to help explain to parents the importance of wearing masks, the TEA has published editable PDFs that may be helpful here in English and here in Spanish. This is a resource for you if you want it. Distributing these documents is not required.
More Health and Safety Resources:
The TEA has published a Public Health Operational Guidebook to help schools and school districts incorporate all of these health and safety measures that are in the updated TEA guidance. At the end of this guidebook, there is a series of tabletop exercises to practice what to do in a given circumstance. These scenarios come with an answer key in order to practice what to do if these situations happen in your school, according to the TEA. There may be more trainings happening in conjunction with this guidebook and these exercises through the regional service centers and we will pass along any details that we get.
CDC Decision-Making Tool for Parents:
The CDC has released a decision-making tool for parents to help them decide whether to send their children back to school in person. This may be helpful to provide more guidance to your school families who are uncertain.
Reopenings – Other Helpful Documents
The official state guidance for child care is here. Licensed child cares may open immediately to all families, not just essential workers.
Centers for Disease Control Recommendations:
The CDC has published simple decision-make flow charts for child care, summer camps, and school. The CDC also released more detailed recommendations yesterday for reopening child care centers, summer camps, and schools here on pages 40-48. These are recommendations and these documents defer to the state guidance linked above.
Education Week School Opening Tracker:
A handy tool to see public school reopening plans across the country is here. There is a search box for public school district to see what public schools in your area are planning.
Fisher Phillips has recently produced a handy chart working through various COVID-19 exposure scenarios. These recommendations follow the CDC guidelines.
The American Camp Association released this field guide for camps that gives more detailed advice about all activities popular at camps. The field guide offers best practices for everything from swimming to arts and crafts. This is an additional resource for your information, not additional regulation.
American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendation:
The nation’s pediatricians released a strong statement in support of returning to in-person school this fall. The official statement is here, and analysis is here.
American Federation of School Administrators:
This national administrator group has issued a new guide for reopening schools safely.
Fisher Phillips has a FAQ document here that may answer more questions that you have about how to safely reopen your school.
Rosner Space Planning Tool:
Are you wondering how to incorporate social distancing into your classrooms and how many children can fit? There is a free tool designed by a junior at CalTech that does the work for you. The link for the website where you can download the Rosner model is here. The link to the webinar to learn how to use this tool is on YouTube here.
Ari is also helping schools with planning for larger spaces like auditoriums, chapels, stadiums, and even buses. There is a new paid option on the website under “Space Planning Model” that allows for more complex room configurations and variable social distancing.
Private School Reopening Documents:
ACSI has provided a decision-making matrix for reopening here. There was a suggestion on an NAIS webinar today to have a few students on campus to make a video of the health and safety procedures that you choose for your school. This is a great way to test out the strategies with real children and to allow parents and students at home to see what will be expected of them on campus in the fall.
A Little Mask Humor:
Something about this has to be funny, right? Find here some real possibilities of what we are going to face in dealing with children wearing masks in schools. Masks are not mandated statewide at this point, but many schools are incorporating them in their reopening plans.
PPE From TEA
The spreadsheet with quantities of PPE for each public school district and private school that completed the survey may be found here.
Immunizations & Health Screenings
Vision and Hearing Screenings:
The Department of State Health Services is still determining whether vision, hearing, and spinal screenings will be required this year. We will let you know as soon as a decision is reached. In the meantime, for schools who are screening students, please refer to this best practices document for guidance on safely screening students this school year.
There will be virtual Vision and Hearing Basics workshops beginning Sept. 1, 2020 for individuals who do not have current vision and hearing certification. Please contact the Regional Coordinator for your area for more information and to sign up for training. Regional coordinator contact information may be found here. Please email email@example.com with any questions.
The immunization requirements are still in place for the 2020-2021 school year.
Cares Act – Federal Relief
More Federal Relief for Schools:
Congress is working on another package of COVID-19 relief which is expected to include funds for K-12 schools. CAPE is providing this legislative tool to let your representatives know to include families of private schools in this assistance.
The Original Relief Package:
Texas was allotted $1,285,886,000 of the $13.5 billion in the CARES Act for coronavirus relief for US K-12 education.
Here is the link where you may see what your local school district is entitled to. Private schools will get a proportionate share of these funds due to the total K-12 enrollment of their school as of March. This will happen in the same way that other federal funds have been distributed in the past – through equitable services.
This means that the local school district consults with each private school about their needs related to this pandemic and arranges to meet these needs by purchasing items or services that remain under the control of the local school district, but are in use at the private school. This allows a school to avoid being a recipient of federal funds. You do NOT need to have participated in these equitable services discussions before in order to participate now.
We hope you have made contact with the person in your local school district who is in charge of federal programs. If not, a sample letter may be found here. This is the person you will be consulting with in order to receive these services. The local school district may not apply to receive their funds until they have consulted with every private school located in their district. This does NOT include for-profit schools or stand alone preschools.
In order to be ready for your consultation, please have:
- your K-12 enrollment as of March
- your needs assessment (see list of eligible items below)
- your personal calendar for any follow-up meetings
- your school calendar for anything that needs to be scheduled like a deep cleaning or technology delivery
- your personal contact information so that the district can contact you at any time with follow-up questions, etc.
- the law with the exact language of what is eligible, the guidance from the US Department of Education, and
What These Funds Can Be Used For:
- tutoring for next year
- counseling for students
- online subscriptions
- Zoom licenses
- technology (schools may not be reimbursed for purchases already made. If you have already purchased technology, you may be able to have the vendor re-invoice the school district and issue a refund to the school. Ask your school district about this possibility.)
- cleaning supplies
- professional development
While you may have some acute needs now that could be immediately addressed (e.g. purchasing of distance education technology for students), you may also arrange to have some services delivered at a later time (e.g. scheduling a deep cleaning of school facilities a month prior to the academic year commencing in the fall).
Any funding that is not used within one year must be returned to the US Department of Education so that it may be reallocated to other states.
Private Schools in Texas are Using ESSER Funds Equitable Services for (in no particular order):
1. Janitorial services (some schools increasing from once at night to once during the day and once at night)
2. Subscriptions to Zoom, Brainpop, IXL, Seesaw, Starfall, Raz-Kids, Vocabulary Spelling City
3. Disposable cups for drinking water
4. Clamshell containers for individual lunches
5. Meraki licensure (allows wireless datapoints to “speak” to each other)
6. Electrostatic sprayers (may need to be returned to the district at the end of the grant period)
7. 55 gallon drum of Vital Oxide
8. Tutoring to replace spring learning losses
9. Hand pumps, pump stations, masks, face shields, wipes, thermometers, gloves, and sanitizer
10. Chromebooks (may need to be returned to the district at the end of the grant period)
ESSER Funding Update from TEA:
The webinar this morning explained the new ways that funding for equitable services may be calculated after the interim final rule from the Department of Education was officially released yesterday. A video of the webinar may be found here once it is uploaded to the TEA YouTube channel. A brief summary is that each school district may decide to only use ESSER funds on Title I (low income) public schools instead of all of their schools. If the public school district decides to do this, then there are 3 ways that the private school share may be calculated:
1a. the district may use the percentage of funding that was allocated in the 2019-2020 school year for Title I private school equitable services and redistribute that amount to all private schools interested in participating in ESSER funds for COVID-19 expenses
1b. the district may take a new count of children in private schools who live in a Title I service area and use that percentage of funds to redistribute to all private schools interested in participating in ESSER funds for COVID-19 expenses.
2. the district may use the same calculation that they were using for the previous guidance which is based on the total enrollment for private schools. This is the best option for private schools.
This decision is up to the school districts. However, this calculation must be discussed with the private schools that are interested in participating and agreement must be reached. If you have already had consultation with your public school district, they will be reaching out to you again to discuss these changes.
If you have had a consultation with your local school district that was unsatisfactory, please do try to communicate with the district to make sure they understand what your school needs to recover from this pandemic. Also, keep all documentation of communication with the school district.
If all else fails, we have an ombudsman at the TEA to help resolve disputes. Please email PNPOmbudsman@tea.texas.gov.
The FAQ for equitable services under the ESSER portion of the CARES Act is updated once again here. An interesting addition is that the private school may hire staff to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing with these equitable services as long as the district does the interviewing and hiring of this staff person.
Equitable Services Update:
The FAQ for equitable services under the ESSER portion of the CARES Act is updated as of July 23rd here. Construction is allowed in public schools, but not in private schools. However, non-permanent modifications may be made. For example, a tent can be erected for a health screening station or hand-washing stations can be installed that can be removed at the end of the grant period.
Also, private schools may be reimbursed for COVID-related costs that were incurred before consultation with the local school district.
Equitable Services Clarification:
In the FAQ (page 20) for equitable services updated on July 23rd, it is stated that private schools may be reimbursed for COVID-related costs that were incurred before consultation with the local school district. This is true, but the school cannot be reimbursed for purchases made after the first consultation with the local school district. After the first consultation, it is the local school district that purchases any equipment or services needed.
ESSER Funding District List:
Districts calculating private school students proportionally: Austin, Big Spring, Boerne, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Edinburg, Frisco, Georgetown, Killeen, Lubbock, Mineral Wells, Round Rock, San Antonio, San Marcos, Taylor, Tyler, Victoria, Weatherford, and Ysleta.
Districts calculating using one of the two Title I options: Crowley, Giddings, Hays, Laredo, Magnolia, Mesquite, Temple, United, and Waco.
A lawsuit has been filed by some states to protest the guidance from the US Department of Education allowing private school students to be counted proportionally. TPSA has signed an amicus brief to help fight this effort to keep private school students from receiving their allocations. If your school district used a proportionate count for your equitable services, you may want to go ahead and obligate these funds to be used sooner rather than later in case the rules change again.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
This legislation is designed to keep staff employed. If you think your school might be interested in receiving one of these forgivable loans, the recommendation is to go ahead and apply here. The actual loans come through your bank, so you may also go ahead and contact your back to get more information and perhaps to get the process started.
If you do access a loan and decide to use it, it is suggested that you put it in a separate account and pay only for eligible expenses (payroll, mortgage interest, interest on debt obligation, rent, and utilities) and keep detailed documentation of these payments.
PPP – We Have the Money, What Do We Do Now?:
This is a very important question to answer before you use the money that was provided by the Paycheck Protection Program. As you know, using this money makes schools recipients of federal financial assistance, so you will need to consider the requirements of Title VI, Title IX, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 504. This includes appointing a Title IX coordinator who is responsible for compliance for the school and looking at your 504 accommodations policy.
Your school attorney will be helpful in making sure you meet all of these requirements, even if only for the brief time of the loan. Fisher Phillips is also offering a package compliance program for $3,000 to make sure schools meet these requirements. For more information, contact Kristin Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
PPP and the Media:
It is possible that the Small Business Administration may be releasing a list of the recipients of these loans. If you did apply and receive these funds, please make sure that you are ready and able to clearly articulate the need for these loans to your community and possibly the press. The recommendation is to focus on the purpose of the loan, which was to make sure that all employees could continue to be paid. Any school that received more than $2 million dollars will be audited.
PPP Loan Forgiveness Information:
The latest update on PPP loan forgiveness for the original program that ended on August 8th is found here. FAQs from August 4th are here. Information about the new EZ loan forgiveness application is here, link to the actual EZ application is here and the regular loan forgiveness application is here. You may apply for forgiveness now or wait for the inevitable changes that will come as this program evolves. If you have not gotten back up to your original FTE employee count, it may make more sense to wait.
Other CARES Act Provisions
Payroll Tax Credit Deferral:
There are some other programs that are of benefit to private schools including a payroll tax credit of up to $10,000 per employee (Section 2301) and the option to defer payment of payroll taxes (Section 2302). More information from BDO may be found here. Previously, entities that took the PPP loans were not eligible for these deferrals, but this was changed so that is no longer true.
There is language in the legislation increasing the amount of unemployment compensation that people are eligible for by $600 per week and extending eligibility to employees who may not have been eligible for these benefits before this health crisis. If you have laid off employees due to this disaster, you may encourage them to apply for unemployment insurance. They may be eligible now unlike before the passage of this new law. Again, details of these changes are to be determined.
Now that teachers and staff are back in some school buildings, more questions have emerged about the emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the CARES Act. These are in effect until December 31, 2020. The Top 10 Things to know from Fisher Phillips that was published last spring is here with chart here. Information about the tax credits that may be used to pay for this leave is here.
A recently published Q and A about these leave programs from the Department of Labor may be found here.
Resources from TEA
Project Restore is a new online training launched by the TEA to help with the mental health issues of the pandemic.
OnRamps Distance Learning Catalogue:
UT Austin is providing free self-paced training for middle and high school teachers who will be teaching in a distance learning or hybrid model this year. This program draws from over 8 years of experience in offering distance education and professional learning and development. The webinar about this program will be on Tuesday, August 18th at 3pm and will be recorded for later viewing. More information may be found here.
The TEA has quickly put together a website with a schedule and sample curriculum for PreK – Grade 5 to help districts and schools that are struggling with distance learning. This is an ongoing project, but may be helpful for schools that still have some questions about how to complete the school year in a meaningful way.
Free Remote Learning Training for Administrators from TEA:
There is a series of trainings designed to help elementary, middle, and high school principals switch to remote learning here. These webinars are being presented from July 20th to August 6th. Private school administrators are welcome if you think it would be helpful to you.
Texas School Safety Conference:
The full-day online conference was July 16th, but many of you may not have had the time or bandwidth to participate. Our TPSA intern took great notes and they may be found here.
The most salient points for private schools are 1. Private schools need to have a plan in place that is well-communicated to their community on how they plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and how they plan to respond to potential cases. 2. Private schools should not compromise other safety and security aspects for the sake of their COVID-19 response. Be aware that masks, for example, could prevent students and staff from easily spotting intruders and name badges might be worth considering to help with this issue. Also, increasing airflow is important, but not at the expense of securing entry and exit points against intruders.
Private School Resources
Open Letter to Independent Schools:
There are many questions and few answers about how this school year will end and what next year will look like. This letter to private schools written by Ben Scafidi from Kennesaw State University offers the opinions of experts on the likely health environment for the next school year, financial implications for private schools, and educational considerations for the 2020-2021 academic year. This is a good framework for thinking through the next school year and formulating a plan.
NAIS Sharing Solutions:
The National Association of Independent Schools has set up a website called Sharing Solutions, which is open to all to share ideas and resources during this challenging time. You can post and browse school examples about distance learning, rethinking operations, caring for community, and more.
From the National Association of Independent Schools https://www.nais.org/articles/pages/additional-covid-19-guidance-for-schools/?utm_source=hpc&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=mc&utm_content=mc
From the Association of Christian Schools International: https://community.acsi.org/coronavirusresources/home – includes information about the Coronavirus as well as low-cost or free online learning, and tuition and employment information.
The Southern Association of Independent Schools is happy to share its resources, which are being updated constantly: https://www.sais.org/general/custom.asp?page=Coronavirus_Resources_for_Schools
A compilation of all free resources offered by Ed Tech companies
Catapult Learning is also offering a new webinar called “Supercharging In-Home Lesson Design” here.
Enrollment Plan for Next Year:
Mission Advancement is offering a low-cost service to help with strategies for enrollment for 2020-2021. Find out more here
Wide Open School is a free collection of the best online learning experiences for kids curated by the editors at Common Sense. Featured content includes Khan Academy, Scholastic, PBS, YouTube, and National Geographic.
FACTS offers many resources about all of the issues that schools are grappling with right now – the best online teaching practices, pivoting school marketing strategies, data privacy, understanding the CARES Act, etc. These may all be found here.
The Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools has put together a very helpful document about dealing with death in the school community.
We mentioned this week that the FBI has reported an uptick in online predatory behavior. Praesidium is offering some quick and easy guidance for staff and administrators to ensure appropriate boundaries and professionalism while working from home.
A free tool from Armanino that enables schools to measure and forecast the impact of COVID-19 on its 2021 operating budget may be found here. This will allow schools to tell the financial story for 2021 to all parents, administration, and board members in a way that is easy to understand.