Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) Information

Cares Act Part Two:
Federal Relief Package – The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA):
Passed on December 21st and signed by the President on December 27th, this $2.3 trillion dollar omnibus bill includes a few items of relevance to private schools.  

EANS (Emergency Assistance to Nonpublic Schools): is a program within the second round of GEER funds:

Texas will get $153 million dollars from the federal government specifically for private school COVID relief.  Every school is eligible, regardless of the number of low income students.  This program will be administered through one office at the TEA (not local school districts), and TPSA is working closely with them to create the most simple and user-friendly application possible.  The application is not ready yet, but it should be ready in the next month.

In the FAQs from the Department of Education, they stated very clearly that even reimbursements to private schools for previous COVID-related purchases do NOT make a school a recipient of federal financial assistance.  However, these items for which schools are reimbursed or items that are purchased using these funds will technically become property of the state.  There is a slight chance that the state could come back at the end of this grant period (2023) and take back items purchased.  It is a slim chance, but something to keep in mind when planning uses of these funds. 

ALLOWABLE EXPENSES:

  • Supplies to sanitize, disinfect, and clean school facilities
  • PPE
  • Improving ventilation systems, including windows or portable air purification systems
  • Training and professional development for staff on sanitization, the use of PPE, and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Physical barriers to facilitate social distancing
  • Other materials, supplies or equipment recommended by the CDC for reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain health and safety
  • Expanding capacity to administer coronavirus testing to effectively monitor and suppress the virus
  • Educational technology
  • Redeveloping instructional plans for remote or hybrid learning or to address learning loss
  • Leasing sites or spaces to ensure social distancing
  • Reasonable transportation costs
  • Initiating and maintaining education and support services or assistance for remote or hybrid learning or to address learning loss
  • Reimbursement for the expenses of any services or assistance described above that a non-public school incurred on or after March 13, 2020 except for the services or assistance below:

These MAY NOT be reimbursed:

  • Improvements to ventilation systems (including windows), except for portable air purification systems, which may be reimbursed
  • Any expenses reimbursed with a PPP loan
  • Staff training and professional development on sanitization, the use of PPE, and minimizing the spread of COVID-19
  • Developing instructional plans, including curriculum development, for remote or hybrid learning or to address learning loss
  • Initiating and maintaining education and support services or assistance for remote or hybrid learning or to address learning loss. 

PPP Part Two: 
This new legislation authorizes the Small Business Administration (SBA) to approve Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP) loans up to the $284.5 billion allocated for this program.

PPP loans will be available to schools with 500 or fewer employees that did not previously receive a PPP loan to help with payroll, rent, utilities, healthcare costs, and more.

Existing PPP borrowers may receive a “second draw” PPP loan if they have used all of their first loan (or will have by the time of the disbursement of the second loan), have no more than 300 employees, and can demonstrate a year-over-year quarterly revenue reduction of at least 25%.

**You Can’t Take Both:  If you want to apply for the PPP in order to get the money before it runs out, you may do so.  Don’t accept the money you are awarded if you intend to apply for EANS funds.  If you decide that the EANS funds are a better option for your school, you may submit documentation of not taking the PPP loan with your EANS application to the TEA. 

Employee Retention Tax Credits:
Originally, these tax credits were only available to entities that did NOT take a PPP loan.  This condition changed with the second pandemic relief bill, and this may be applied retroactively, as early as March 13, 2020 as long as the employer does not claim the tax credit on wages paid with a forgivable PPP loan.  The refundable credit against the employer’s Social Security taxes can be for 50 percent of qualified wages paid, up to $10,000 per employee annually for wages paid between March 13 and Dec. 31, 2020.  Employers that claim the credit retroactively for wages paid in 2020 may generally claim the credit on their fourth-quarter Form 941 due by January 31, 2021.  After this date, the methodology changes and requires more IRS interaction.  See details here.  This credit is extended past December 31, 2020 through June 30, 2021 and the size and scope of the credit changes in 2021.  Taking these tax credits does NOT make a school a recipient of federal financial assistance.

EIDL Loans:
This still-available loan may have been overlooked in all of the information about the second round of PPP loans.  The Small Business Administration continues to administer these loans and information is here.  These loans are not forgivable, and the terms are 2.75% interest for 30 years.  The amount available is 6 months of working capital for a maximum of $150,000. 

If you have already received one of these loans, and it was less than $150,000, you may request an increase in your existing SBA EIDL loan.  

No Extension on FFCRA Mandatory Leave Rules:
The original Families First Coronavirus Relief Act mandating sick and fmaily leave for employees was allowed to expire on December 31st.  However, the tax credits for those employees who continue to offer this leave remain until March 31, 2021.  More details here from Jackson Walker.  

Public Health Guidance

Updated health guidance from TEA dated March 3rd:
Based on the repeal of the mask mandate by the Governor, the public health guidance has changed to indicate that schools may keep their mask policies or change them if the school board decides to do so.  

The most recent quarantine guidance is that the stay-at-home period can end for individuals experiencing no symptoms:

1.  On day 10 after close contact exposure without testing
2.  On day 7 after close contact exposure and after receiving a negative test result.  The negative test should be administered at least 5 days after the last close contact.

If individuals return to school from these shorter stay-at-home windows, they should regularly monitor themselves for symptoms to ensure that they remain symptom-free and take appropriate precautions (e.g., more consistent mask usage) for the duration of the 14-day incubation period. 

**Finally, 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, schools 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).  This means that there may be no quarantine requirement for staff that are necessary to preserve operations.

Should We Follow These New Guidelines?:
The CDC did state that they were sharing these options with local public health agencies across the country so that they can determine how long quarantine periods should last in their jurisdictions based on local conditions and needs.  According to the CDC, everyone should follow the specific guidance from their local public health authorities about how long quarantines should last. 

Austin Public Health has incorporated these new CDC and TEA guidelines in this very handy chart

Fisher Phillips has an advisory document here

CDC Update on Reopening Schools:
The CDC updated its guidance for schools to reopen.  There is not much more that is different from what is already recommended and in place in our private schools.  They do reiterate that complete vaccination is not required to reopen schools, but mention trying to keep students 6 feet apart in schools.  This has been a controversial recommendation that may be keeping some public school districts from opening due to teacher union pushback.

Another update is that fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.  This guidance is here.  This applies beginning 2 weeks after the second dose and fewer than 90 days following this second dose.  This is likely to change once we have more information about how long immunity lasts.

Vaccine Update:
No change in the prioritizing only people in groups 1a and 1b for COVID-19 vaccines.  These means teachers as a group due to their frontline status are not prioritized.  Justification may be found in this document.  An interesting article in the Dallas Morning News fleshing out the response to this decision is here.  Senator Kolkhorst (member of the EVAP panel) stated on the Senate floor that we would have all teachers and staff vaccinated by the fall.  

The one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine should be approved on February 26th and distributed in early March.  This vaccine does not require the refrigeration that the other vaccines do and should be a game changer for vaccine distribution.  Clinical trials for a vaccine for children have also started.

Update on Masks:
Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools recently published some guidance for mask policies in schools.  We don’t think there is much in here that our schools didn’t decide in September, but the link to this document is here.  Yesterday, the CDC updated their guidance on masks here.  NBC News report here.  They do mention double masking as a way to increase protection, but these are recommendations and not requirements for all states. 

New Guidance on Drills During a Pandemic:
The Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center has released some ideas for modifying lockdown and other drills during the pandemic here.

Attendance Waivers:
Many schools are worried about meeting the minimum instructional hours for this incredibly difficult year.  The TEA is providing waivers for public school instructional hours for the entire last week of weather-related closures and likely more for the beginning of this week.  There is no such thing as a TEA waiver for private schools.  If you are concerned with meeting your instructional hours this year, please contact your accrediting commission for information about meeting that standard.  

Rapid COVID Testing

Rapid Tests NOT Federal Financial Assistance:
From the US Department of Education:

Colleagues,

As you know, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is providing COVID-19 rapid test kits to States for use in public and private schools to test students and school personnel.  You asked some questions to us about this provision of kits, and we are writing to let you know that HHS has advised our Department that it has determined that these COVID-19 rapid test kits under the current emergency circumstances and under this system of distribution does not constitute “federal financial assistance.”  HHS has concluded under the limited emergency circumstances of the pandemic at this time, the distribution of these supplies for use by these public and private schools for students and school personnel does not establish an “assistance relationship” with schools.  It is our understanding that, absent this current health emergency, schools would not normally engage in these COVID-19 testing activities, and that the supply of these kits does not result in a benefit to the schools themselves but to the students and educational staff and the overall community.  This distribution program allows schools to perform a “public community service” during this health emergency by disseminating and administering rapid test kits to teachers, other educational personnel in the schools, and students.  

Please let us know if you have any additional questions. 

Maureen Dowling

An enormous thank you to Maureen Dowling, Pamela Allen, and others at the Department of Education for working so hard to get this answer for us!

A FAQ document for all schools (public and private) is here.  A playbook with additional guidance for public and private schools is found here

These documents are all located on the COVID page of the TEA website under “K-12 Covid-19 Testing Project.”

Some Clarifications:
1.  Schools are not required to accept the tests – it is opt-in only.  Schools decide who gets the tests and when.  Preschool students may be included.  Must have parental permission for students under 18.  A sample permission slip is here.  An annotated version of this permission slip is here.  Schools are not required to use these exact permission slips and they may be altered to fit your school.
2. There will be one test coordinator (with one alternate) identified per school who will be the liaison with TDEM (Texas Department of Emergency Management).  Any staff member who has gone through the TDEM online training may administer the tests. 
3.  This is the Abbott BinaxNOW test.  It is not the “brain tickler” test, it is a less intrusive nose swab.  Results available in 15 minutes.
4.  True positive rate:  97.1%.  True negative rate:  98.5% (much more accurate than first generation tests).
5.  Schools will receive a monthly allotment of the total staff count plus 5% of the student enrollment.  This amount will increase if the hospitalization rate in your area increases.  You will coordinate this with TDEM.  Schools may only use these tests for students and employees of the school, not family members.
6.  The PPE that you get includes:  tests, foldable N95 masks, face shields, surgical masks, gloves, and gowns.  People are able to test themselves under the supervision of a test administrator.
7.  Tests have an expiration date that is printed on the back of each box of tests.  The test kits have a 6-month shelf life if they are stored between 36-86 degrees Fahrenheit.
8.  The CLIA waiver will be held by TDEM.  TDEM’s CLIA information, along with the provider of record will automatically populate in the test registration system and should not have to be manually entered by test administrators.
9.  Tests will be shipped monthly to the private schools at the address entered into the application.
10.  Schools may engage third parties to help with test administration, but there can be no cost related to this testing to the students or employees.
11. The Texas Division of Emergency Management tried their very best to avoid this stipulation because of the cost to schools, but schools will need to follow hazardous waste policies in order to dispose of these rapid tests.  Schools will need to make a plan for the disposal.  Your local health department or your local hospital might be places that can help you with this process.  We do not endorse any particular company, but some member schools have offered that they are going to use this company to dispose of the used tests. 
12.  It is a requirement to receive the tests that a school be open to any student who wants to attend on campus.  Hybrid schedules where groups of students attend on different days does count as being open to students and those schools may receive tests.
13.  Schools will need to report positive, negative, and tests that fail to DSHS.  This should happen automatically through the testing app. This is not the state public school weekly reporting system.  Schools will also have to report inventory.

Rapid COVID Tests:
For those of you administering the rapid COVID tests, here is more information about disposing of the tests.  

New COVID Testing Guidance from CDC:
The CDC released updated COVID-19 testing protocol for K-12 schools that may be of interest, especially with the rapid tests coming to interested private schools.  The EEOC has determined that schools may mandate COVID tests for employees as long as it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  Schools should get parental permission for student testing.  Fisher Phillips interprets this new guidance here

Immunizations & Health Screenings

Update on Vision, Hearing, and Spinal Screenings
Screenings are still required for this school year, but DSHS understands the needs for flexibility and advises schools to assess their capacity to safely conduct screenings.  Schools and child cares with the capacity to screen should notify parents and follow the best practices developed by DSHS.  Parents who choose not to participate at this time may decline screenings.

DSHS recommends schools notify the parents of children who have missed or will miss a screening, so that their medical provider can perform them at the next appointment.  Sample letters may be found on the DSHS website here

The Child Health Reporting System (CHRS) opens for 2020-2021 reporting on January 15th and closes on June 30th.  Schools that conducted screenings should enter their screening results as usual.  Those unable to screen this year due to COVID-19 should still report in CHRS by entering zeroes in the number fields.  This will keep the school from appearing on the “Did Not Report” list.  Instructions for adding zeroes are located under “Announcements” on the website here.  

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 vhssprogram@dshs.texas.gov with any questions.

The immunization requirements are still in place for the 2020-2021 school year.

Confirmed Cases

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:

Presumptive Case Staff
Presumptive Case Student
Confirmed Case Staff
Confirmed Case Student

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 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.”

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.

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.

An enormous thank you to Attorney General Ken Paxton and Senator Paul Bettencourt for once again advocating for the independence and autonomy of private schools in Texas.

Masks:
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.

Decision-Making Tree for Symptomatic Individuals in Schools:
The TEA and the Department of State Health Services have produced a decision-making tree document to help people know what to do when COVID symptoms develop.

Texas Medical Association Return to School Letter:
There seems to be some confusion, even among physicians, about when students are able to return to school after COVID symptoms, testing, and/or exposure.  This form from the Texas Medical Association may help parents, school staff, and doctors to all be on the same page about students returning to school.  Austin Public Health suggested distributing this form to parents so that they can take it to their doctor and get the information they need for an appropriate return to school date.

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.

New CDC Definition of Close Contact:
Previously, a definition of close contact was someone within 6 feet of a confirmed case for 15 consecutive minutes within the 48 hours before the person developed symptoms.  Now, the CDC is saying that it is a cumulative total of 15 minutes instead of 15 consecutive minutes.  This means if a person is in contact with a positive case for 5 minutes 3 times in a 24 hour period, this would be considered a close contact.  Fisher Phillips has an overview of this change here.  

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.

Return-to-Work Scenarios:
Fisher Phillips has recently produced a handy chart working through various COVID-19 exposure scenarios.  These recommendations follow the CDC guidelines. 

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.

Reopening FAQs:
Fisher Phillips has a FAQ document here that may answer more questions that you have about how to safely reopen your school.

Helpful EEOC Guidance for COVID in the Workplace:
A document published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may answer some questions about how to handle issues of accommodations, testing, medical information, etc. in the workplace.  For example, if an employee calls in sick, you can’t ask for medical information about any family members, but you can ask if the employee has had close contact with anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed diagnosis.

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.  

UIL Guidance:
As expected, the UIL guidance now includes mask provisions and may be found here.  A summary from the Dallas Morning News may be found here.

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.

Resources from TEA

Trauma-Informed Training:
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.

Mental Health Resources:
The TEA has published a resource for families about protecting the mental health of students.  This may be found here.  It is found in Spanish as well here.

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

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
https://thejournal.com/articles/2020/03/13/free-resources-ed-tech-companies-step-up-during-coronavirus-outbreak.aspx?s=the_nu_180320&oly_enc_id=0917J3558689I1U

The TEA cybersecurity webinar is recorded here.  The PowerPoint alone is here.

Catapult Learning is also offering a new webinar called “Supercharging In-Home Lesson Design” here.

FACTS is offering a series of webinars hosted by thought leaders in online learning here.

WideOpenSchool:
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 Resources:
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.

Grief Resources:
The Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools has put together a very helpful document about dealing with death in the school community.

Child Sex Abuse Online:
The FBI has confirmed that there is an increase in grooming behaviors online, as expected, since all education has gone to distance learning.  Boundary education is even more important now than ever, and should be included in any professional development that is being planned about this new mode of education.  If a teacher is fired or allowed to resign for inappropriate relationships with students, remember to report this within 7 days to the State Board of Educator Certification.  More information found here.
 
Resource for Online Student Protection Staff Development:
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.
 
PBS:
All 10 Texas PBS affiliates are now airing TEKS-aligned programming. The At-Home Learning Initiative consists of shows and supplemental materials that further support remote instruction.  While most private schools do not use TEKS for their curriculum, this may be another resource for schools and families, especially when a lack of individual devices and/or sufficient broadband is an issue in the home.
 
Financial Modeling Help:
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.