Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) Information

Public Health Guidance:
The TEA published new public health guidance on January 7th herePlease refresh your browser if you don’t see the date of January 7th at the top.

CDC Relaxes Masking Guidelines:
If you are concerned about the transition to being mask optional after the last two years, the School Culture and Climate Initiative from Saint Elizabeth University put together a helpful tip sheet here.

There is no difference in the statewide guidance for students yet These changes were expected this week, but they did not materialize.  As a reminder, right now, a student who tests positive or is symptomatic should stay out of school for 10 days.  A school can require household close contacts to stay home in an area with high or rising COVID rates (which is pretty much everywhere right now).  For non-household close contacts, it is the parent’s decision whether the child stays home or not.

The guidance for staff has changed.  Schools must exclude staff if that person tests positive or is symptomatic for 5 calendar days (not business days).  Staff may return once 5 days have passed since symptom onset, fever has resolved for 24 hours, and other symptoms have ended.  

Staff who are close contacts do not need to stay home if they are fully vaccinated or have had a confirmed positive test within the last 90 days.  If a staff member does not meet these criteria, it is recommended that they stay off campus during the stay-at-home period, but this is up to the school.  If the staff stays on campus, rapid testing must be performed periodically for 5 days post-exposure, with testing on the 5th day recommended.

As a reminder, private schools are not required to follow the guidance established by the TEA for public schools, but it does set a standard of care in the state.  Private schools should be aware of this guidance and consider it, along with information from local health authorities and school counsel, when establishing COVID protocols.

Another reminder, these guidelines may contradict other guidelines from the CDC and/or your local health authority.  When you decide which guidelines you are following as a private school, be sure to document which ones you are following.  It is practically impossible to follow all of them at once, so having documentation of which one you are following will help if any liability issues arise later.  The CDC changed the recommended quarantine time from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic individuals on December 27th.  Details here from the CDC and guidance on how to implement this change from Fisher Phillips here.

School Flowcharts Based on New CDC Guidance:
Austin public health has been good at providing easy-to-use flowcharts based on the most recent guidance.  You may find the updated one with the 5 or 10-day quarantine here.

Test to Stay in School:
There has been a lot of discussion about this policy of allowing unvaccinated students exposed to the virus to stay in school with ongoing testing.  These students would be tested twice on-site in a 7-day period after exposure rather than quarantining at home.  More details about this concept from Joffe Emergency services may be found here.

How Many Can You Spare?:
With the Omicron variant sweeping across the country, some school districts are dealing with mass absences of faculty, staff, and students.  Joffe Emergency Services suggested that a threshold of 20% of faculty and staff absences and 30% of student absences could be a trigger for remote learning.  This guideline may be helpful as you continue efforts to deal with this ongoing pandemic.

Austin Schools and COVID Signs:
The mayor’s office regrets their lack of follow up on our request for clarification on the January 18th order, but they are trying to coordinate with the county judge to get a consistent answer.  Here is where it stands now:  Austin Public Health expects all schools to post only this sign.  Licensed childcare centers are expected to post that sign as well as this one outlining the precautions the center is taking.  Once we get clarification from the mayor’s office, we will contact interested schools.   If you want to be contacted about the response, please email txprivateschools@gmail.com and we will keep you posted.

Updated Texas Medical Association Return to School Letter: 
The Texas Medical Association updated their return to school letter that many schools found handy in order for everyone to understand the diagnosis and quarantine guidelines.  This updated letter is found here

Updated Texas Medical Association Decision Tree for School Nurses:
Many school nurses and other staff found decision trees and other graphics helpful when making decisions about students and staff at school.  This updated decision tree that is based on CDC guidelines may be found here.  

CDC Case Study of Outbreak in Marin County School:
The case study of a COVID-19 outbreak in a Marin County Elementary school illustrates how this illness may be spread in a classroom.  The description from the CDC website is found here.

Definition of Close Contact:  
Here is a reminder of the CDC definition of close contact in schools.  In most locations, close contacts are defined as within 6 feet of a confirmed case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more within 24 hours. 

In schools, it excludes students who were between 3-6 feet apart if properly masked.  This exclusion does not apply to adults and staff, only students who were within 3-6 feet with masks on and worn properly.  Austin Public Health created a graphic flowchart here that helps clarify these guidelines.

Mask Confusion:
The CDC reversed its July 9th guidance to recommend that everyone, fully vaccinated or not, remain masked indoors in areas of high transmission of the Delta variant of COVID-19, and this includes schools.  The CDC school-specific guidance is here.  

Governor Abbott has issued an executive order that public schools cannot mandate masks.  Private schools have discretion here to require masks on campus if they so choose.  Fifty or so local school districts and municipalities are defying the Governor’s order and instituting a mask mandate regardless of the executive order.  These fights continue to play out in court.

These local mandates vary in terms of applicability to private schools.  The Dallas order does not include private schools, but does include licensed child care centers, and the county judge “hopes that private schools will comply”.  The Bexar County order specifically does include private schools.  The Harris County order includes non-religious private schools. 

If you live in one of these areas with a local mandate and are not sure how it affects your school, please contact your school attorney for interpretation of these conflicting orders.

Vision, Hearing, and Spinal Screenings Changes
Javier Velez has been selected as the new Vision, Hearing, and Spinal Screening Program Manager following the retirement of former manager Elijah Brown.  His goal is to work together in order to better serve our community.  He may be contacted at vhssprogram@dshs.texas.gov or (512)776-7420.  A reminder that these screenings are required to be reported from private and public schools.  More information will likely come if there are any changes to the reporting system this year due to the Delta variant.

COVID Testing

On September 15th, the free rapid COVID testing program changed.  They will no longer be provided from TDEM, but rather they will be provided by private vendors through a program designed by the TEA and DSHS.  One-pager here.  Slide deck with more details on this program is here.  FAQs are here.  Private schools are going to have more options for testing and this will all be provided by third-party vendors paid for by the TEA through DSHS.  The recording of the webinar explaining this program is hereThe helpful eligibility document is here.

How the New Program Works:
Each private school that is eligible and decides to participate will have a dedicated allotment of money to use in the way that the school chooses to do its testing program.  Private schools that apply will be informed of their allocation after they submit their application.

There are three private companies that the school may choose from to do this.  The chart of these vendors is here.  The school may decide to use one company, 2, or all 3.  It is up to the school to contact the chosen companies to set up whatever arrangement works for the school.  This money may be used to simply buy the rapid tests and continue testing in the same way as before, or the school may contract with the company to have them do the testing.  The school may decide to test only symptomatic people on campus, screen groups before activities, or do random pool testing.  PCR tests are now available as well as the rapid antigen tests.  Schools may create their own testing program, protocol, and decide what type of test to use.  You may start contacting vendors now, or wait until after the webinars so you understand all that is available.

Private School Participant List Changes:
The list of participating private schools dated November 4th is here(Please be sure to clear your cache and refresh your browsing history before clicking on the link; if not, old information will appear).  If you are on this list, go ahead and reach out to vendors directly to get your testing program going. We understand that it is taking some time for the vendors to get stocked to fulfill these orders, so please plan ahead. 

You will see that there are 3 new columns that have been added to this spreadsheet.  The TEA is logging the expenditures in these columns and the remaining amount in order to track participation and redistribute as needed in the next calendar year.

If you are on the list and no longer wish to participate, please email covidcasereport@tea.texas.gov and tcecsupport@dshs.texas.gov to remove your school from the list!

This list is housed and updated on the TEA website here under “K-12 COVID-19 Testing Project”  and it is updated 2-5 times per week.  If you are on this list, go ahead and reach out to vendors directly to get your testing program going. 

I Applied and My School is Not on the List?:
Please clear your cache and refresh your browser to make sure that you have the most recent spreadsheet of eligible schools.  If you still do not see your school on the list, please email COVIDCaseReport@tea.texas.gov.

Vendors:
The most recent vendor list dated October 29th is linked here and can be found on the TEA websiteThere will be three new vendors added.  We are still waiting for their approval through DSHS.  We understand that of the current four vendors, Achieve seems to be the one quickest to get tests to schools.

The webinars for all of the vendors participating in the program are here:
Achieve Health Management presentation deck is here and the recording of the webinar is here.
Thermo Fisher Scientific presentation deck is here and the recording of the webinar is here.  
Quest Diagnostics recording is here.
The Affinity Empowering recording is here.  They changed their name to Concentric by Gingko.  This is the federal pool PCR testing program that is free to schools.
You may choose one, all, or any combination of these vendors in order to structure your COVID testing program.  

Three New Vendors:
Three new vendors have been selected by DSHS:  ACCU Reference, Goodside, and Bloom.  The Bloom webinar is here.  The Goodside webinar is here.   Goodside slide deck is here.  ACCU Reference webinar is here.  The most recent vendor list dated January 4th is here.

Points of Clarification:

  • You will not pay anything.  The vendors will be paid with your allocation, which schools will be made aware of after they submit this application.
  • You must design your program to fit in the allotment of money that you will be getting.  These allotments will be reconsidered in January.
  • You will see mention of a grant program in addition to this testing program.  We do not know yet whether private schools can participate in this program because this would be a direct appropriation to the school.  We will keep you posted on this, but focus on the private vendor piece for now.
  • Please use the email COVIDCaseReport@tea.texas.gov to communicate with the TEA about this program.  
  • If you have issues with the vendors, please contact DSHS at tcec@dshs.texas.gov.
  • If you have rapid BinaxNOW tests that you will not be using, please contact k-12logs@tdem.texas.gov.  They will redistribute them to schools that need more.

Abbott BinaxNOW Expiration Extended:
If you are holding on to some of the old tests from the former program, you may now be able to use them if they fall under the parameters outlined in this letter.  If they are not listed with an extended expiration date, please do not use them as they may produce false positives.  Information on disposing of these tests is here.  

Schools that returned expired test kits to the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), which have now had their expiration dates extended, may request those test kits back.  Simply email TDEM at: resupply@tdem.texas.gov

Some Updates For Testing Coordinators:
1. CLIA Waivers
With the TDEM testing project that ended on September 15th, all tests were covered under one CLIA waiver.  Now that we have added private vendors and different types of testing (PCR vs. Antigen), schools will need to apply for their own CLIA waiver which certifies that the school may administer these tests.  The cost is $180 and the testing contacts at each school will be contacted and provided information about how to do this.  A Quick Start Guide for applying is here and the application itself is here.  An example of a completed application is here.

In order to submit your CLIA waiver application, you need to know which Health Facility Compliance Zone of the Texas Department of State Health Services your school is located in.  The map of these zones is here.  Please submit your application to the appropriate zone.  Their contact information is here.

2. Standing Delegation Order
Dr. Hellerstadt, the head of the Department of State Health Services, signed a new Standing Delegation Order that covers all antigen tests on September 29th.  The statewide Standing Delegation Order has been updated as of October 22nd to include PCR testing.  This should help eliminate one of the bureaucratic hassles before using the more accurate tests that are available.

3. Number Clarification for Test and Services Received Report:
When your tests arrive on campus, you will need to fill out this Test and Services Received Report.  This form is to ensure that schools are getting the tests that they need and that the program is being charged the correct amount.  Two numbers are needed.

  1. The first number is the LEA Code/School Code #.  For accredited private schools, this will be your TEPSAC number.  For unaccredited private schools, DSHS will assign this number.
  2. The second number is a private school authentication code.  You will get both numbers in an email from the TEA  in the next 1-2 business days in order to submit this form within 48 hours of receiving the tests on campus. If you need these numbers immediately, please email CovidCaseReport@tea.texas.gov.

Reporting – Important:
There are 3 types of reporting when accepting these COVID tests:
1.  Schools should report receiving these tests within 48 hours of receipt on campus.  When you do report the tests that arrived on campus (report link is here), please report the number of individual tests, not the number of boxes.  There will be a webinar explaining this reporting process on Thursday, January 20th.  Register here.  These reports do need to be completed in order to reorder tests.
2.  Positive cases should be reported to the local health authority.
3.  Positive cases should also be reported to the vendor who will then report to the TEA in order to follow the requirements of the grant.

Reporting to Parents:
If the third party vendor that you choose in this program is doing your reporting for you, be sure to update your permission slips to reflect this change.  You will likely want to let parents know that the vendor will have access to this information and they will report it to the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System.

TDEM iphones:
The iphones provided with the initial testing program need to be returned to TDEM using the mailing materials provided with the phone.  If you are still using the BinaxNow tests, results may be logged on another device, such as a computer or ipad and the personal data will not be held on that device.

Houston Schools Please Note: 
The city of Houston got its own $69 million dollar grant from the federal government to do its own testing program.  The webinar explaining the Houston program is here.  The TEA will be helping Houston schools while their program gets up and running, so follow the directions above until November 15th when there may be a change for Houston schools.

Does the Prohibition on Standalone Preschools Still Hold?:
Yes, but if you have a preschool as part of your K-12 school, you may count those students and teachers for your allotment and you may use your resources from this program to test preschool students and teachers.  If you need to change your enrollment count to include those preschool students, please email COVIDCaseReport@tea.texas.gov.

The FAQs for this testing program may be found here.  A recent update involves disposal of these tests:  1. the printed expiration date may be extended by 6 months for a total of 12 months of use and 2. any test that has reached its expiration date may be disposed of as general waste.  The bottle of reagent in these expired tests must be disposed of as medical waste per TCEQ requirements here.  

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!

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

**Separate Grant for PPE, Other Costs: 

Houston Schools:
Houston schools have an additional option of getting PCR tests only from the City of Houston grant.  Information here.

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.

Vaccine Information:

OSHA Withdraws Emergency Temporary Standard:
OSHA admitted defeat and withdrew the “shot or test” ETS, but they have reserved the right to include any or all of these elements in a permanent rule of the agency after going through the rulemaking process.  These rules may be more narrowly focused to particular industries, and it may be part of broader infectious disease standard that goes beyond COVID-19.  We will have to wait and see how this plays out.  An analysis of this update by Fisher Phillips is here.

OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard Details: 
Here are the details of the federal vaccine mandate. You can read all 450 pages here.  FAQs are here.  Fisher Phillips did their own FAQs for schools specifically here.  In summary:

  • For businesses with 100 employees or more (this counts seasonal, temporary, and employees who work from home but not independent contractors)
  • Vaccine plan must be in place by December 6th.  All requirements are in effect on this date except the testing requirement.
  • Vaccine and testing requirement in place by January 4, 2022
  • If employee not vaccinated, he or she must be tested weekly, wear masks, and employees can be charged for the tests
  • Employers must accept vaccine exemptions for medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs, but those employees must be tested weekly and wear masks
  • Employers must keep a record of each COVID test result for unvaccinated employees and these are considered confidential medical records.  These must be maintained as long as the ETS is in effect
  • BinaxNow tests are allowed
  • Employees must be compensated for 4 hours to get each does of the vaccine and “reasonable” time to recover from any side effects.  Employers can require that PTO be used first for the recovery time, but not for the vaccinations.
  • If employees work exclusively from home or outdoors, then they do go in the 100 employee count, but may be exempt from these orders
  • Employees must tell employers if they test positive for COVID and they must be removed from the work premises.  The employer does not have to pay for this time away from work
  • Employers must keep a roster of all employees and their vaccination status and there is a list of acceptable ways to prove this status to the employer.   These are considered confidential medical records and must be maintained as long as the ETS is in effect
  • The fine is listed as up to $14,000 per violation
  • OSHA anticipates this ruling lasting six months
  • According to OSHA, this mandate pre-empts all other state and local orders on this topic

What About the Governor’s Order?:
That is a really great question, and no one knows the answer.  As a reminder, the Governor’s Executive Order, signed October 11th, states that no entity within the state of Texas (including private schools) may require vaccines for employees or consumers unless they provide exemptions for medical reasons (including recovery from COVID-19), religious beliefs, or any reason of personal conscience.  Any failure to comply with this order can result in a $1,000 fine.  An update on religious accommodations from Fisher Phillips may be found here, although since schools are required to accept any reason of personal conscience, this accommodation process is less important in Texas at this point.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Vaccine Mandate:
We finally have an answer!  Kind of.  By a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court struck down OSHA’s vaccine ETS this afternoon. They did not rule on the merits of the case, so this ETS is not gone forever yet.  An analysis by Fisher Phillips is here, including recommendations of what to do while this ETS remains somewhat undecided.The details of the entire Emergency Temporary Standard may be found on the TPSA website
here under “vaccine mandate” or in Fisher Phillips FAQs here.

Mandatory Vaccine Clarification:
Some schools are still confused about whether they can require vaccines for students who are old enough to get the vaccine.  Chad Flores at law firm Beck Redden did an analysis of the most recent vaccine legislation here that might be helpful for schools, school boards, and families.  He is also happy to help schools that are confronting this issue on the front lines.  His email is cflores@beckredden.com.

Religious Objections to Vaccine:
Fisher Phillips has a great article about thinking through exemptions from vaccines due to religious objections and possible accommodations here.

Vaccines for Children Ages 5-11 Approved:
On Tuesday, the CDC officially recommended that children 5 to 11 years old be vaccinated using the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine.  This program should be up and running the week of November 8th, and your local health authority has likely reached out to you already with interest surveys and details about administration.  More information may be found here from the CDC and here from DSHS.

Vaccines for Children Ages 12-15:
 There are currently 1.6 million children ages 12-15 in Texas and the vaccine has been shown to be 100% effective for this age range. The Department of State Health Services is trying to make it easier for smaller vaccine providers to access and distribute these vaccines by reducing the required minimum dose order and allowing a longer storage time for these doses.  If you think you might be interested in providing these vaccines, please email enrollTexasIZ@dshs.texas.gov or go here for more information.  Current providers do not need to re-enroll.  A few other items: 
1.  The dose and schedule is the same as that for adults. 
2.  Parental consent is required, but parents do not need to be present at the vaccination. 
3. Any child with medical issues should be vaccinated at his or her “medical home” or current doctor. 
4.  Providers should be aware of the schedule for other regularly scheduled childhood vaccines and make sure that the COVID vaccine is spaced accordingly.  There has been a great disruption in childhood vaccinations and providers are encouraged to use this opportunity to make sure that children get scheduled for all needed vaccines.

Vaccine Side Effects:
Information may be found here from Fisher Phillips relating to vaccine side effects.  Be careful if planning one vaccine clinic for all staff, because many may have symptoms at once which could cause some problems during a school day!

Federal Assistance:
Cares Act Part Two/American Rescue Plan:
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. 

EANS Application:

EANS Office Hours Returning February 1st:
Here is the link to have your questions answered by the experts!  Tuesdays at 10am.  Logon to chat with Region 10 and then join TPSA at 11am!  Login at the top of this email for TPSA meeting.

EANS 1 Round 1 Changes:
Here is a link to a description of the new process (called LaserFiche) for EANS 1 Round 1.  While it is frustrating to have to switch to another system, it will ultimately allow schools more transparency to see where their requests are in the system, and they can get immediate feedback on the allowability of the requests.

EANS 1 Update – Transportation Liability:
Some of you who requested the purchase of vehicles with EANS  money have been notified of a liability issue with this request.  The state has decided that they cannot purchase a vehicle in a school’s name because the school needs to assume liability for the vehicle.  However, they can contract transportation for the school or use this funding in some other EANS allowable way.   

EANS 1 Round 2 Corrected Allocations:
The most recent (and there have been many) allocation spreadsheet dated January 11th is here.  There will be a Zoom about this second round of funding on January 25th, 2022 at 10am CST.  Register here.

EANS 2 Good News:
The 22% poverty threshold was approved by the US Department of Education!  This means that any school that can prove that 22% of their students qualify for free and reduced lunch, erate, or a scholarship or financial assistance will be eligible for the next round of $152 million dollars.  TPSA is meeting with the TEA  to discuss the rollout of EANS 2.  More details to come.

It remains true that schools that received the second round of PPP loans are not eligible for EANS 1 or 2.

All EANS information may be found on this TEA website.  Questions may be directed to EANS@tea.texas.gov.

EANS FAQs:
The USDE released FAQs about EANS 1 and EANS 2 that may be found here and on the USDE EANS website here.  There is some clarification here, but nothing really new in these answers from USDE.

PPP Update: 
**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. 

PPP Loan Forgiveness Audits: 
The Small Business Administration is auditing the Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness applications.  They are primarily focused on loans of $2 million dollars or more, but smaller loans may be included.  In most cases, the bank will be doing the work on this, but there may be a tight turnaround on submitting the audit materials, so be on the lookout for communications from your bank if you received a PPP loan (version one or two).

Direct Forgiveness Portal Opened:
On July 28th, the Small Business Administration opened a portal for loan forgiveness for loans of $150,000 or less.  More information may be found here.  Analysis of this change from SST may be found here

The loan necessity questionnaire is also no longer required to process loan forgiveness decisions.  This relieves some of the paperwork burden in forgiving these loans.  More information from Jackson Walker here.

Other Pieces of the Federal Legislation:
***Employee Retention Tax Credit:
An interesting article here in Inc. indicates that the Employee Retention Tax Credit may go away in order to fund the new federal infrastructure bill.  This article from SST sets the deadline at September 30, 2021.  If your school has not looked into applying for refund for payroll taxes, please do so quickly. You may complete this application yourself, or Andrew Brown (andrewbrown@synergipartners.com) with Synergi Partners is available to help complete these applications for schools with at least 20 employees before these funds are reallocated elsewhere.

Employee Retention Tax Credit Change: 
Congress did pass an infrastructure bill that eliminated the Employee Retention Tax Credit for the 4th quarter of 2021.  This means that currently the ERTC is only available from March 13, 2020 to September 30, 2021.  There are efforts in Congress to reinstate the tax credit for the fourth quarter, but this has not happened yet.

***Alphabet Soup:
There are many, many programs (PPP, EANS, Employee Retention Tax Credit, Emergency Connectivity Fund, Erate) that we have tried to explain to all private schools, but exhaustion and confusion are completely understandable at this point.  We have found a consultant that is available to talk through all of these options with schools.  David Sexauer (david@davidsexauer.com) is available for quick Zooms to answer questions about all of these programs, whether your school is eligible, and if they are worth your time.

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.  

Economic Injury Disaster Loan Limit Raised:
The Small Business Administration raised the EIDL loan limit to $500,000, up from $150,000.  These low interest loans (2.75% for non-profits) have proven popular with business and school struggling to recover from the pandemic.  They also extended the deferment period on March 12th so that repayments do not have to be made until 2022.  An article from the Journal of Accountancy describes these changes here, and more information from the SBA website with application is here.

Paid Sick Leave/Family Medical Leave Tax Credits:
While the FFCRA mandate to pay sick leave and family medical leave expired at the end of 2020, schools may still offer this leave and take the tax credit through September 30th, 2021.  The new federal legislation also increases the credit amount and expands the reasons that this leave may be taken.  If an employee has taken all of the eligible hours, another bank of 10 days goes into effect on April 1st.  Schools should take care to offer this leave to all employees equally if it is decided to continue this benefit.  More information may be found here.

Updated FAQs for FFCRA Employee Sick and Family Leave:
The IRS issued an update to the FAQs for employers who have continued to voluntarily provide this leave from April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021.  Please find an explanation by SST here along with a link to the FAQs.

Third Application Window for the Emergency Connectivity Fund: 
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on March 23 that it will be opening a third (and likely final) application window for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF).  The application will open on April 28, 2022 and close on May 13, 2022.  There will be a total of $1 billion available for schools and libraries to submit requests for funding to purchase eligible equipment and services (like laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students and school staff) between July 1, 2022 and December 31, 2023.  

This may be a great option for schools that were not eligible to apply for EANS because they took the PPP Loan #2.  This fund would buy devices for students and internet access and equipment if needed.  Schools may be considered a recipient of federal financial assistance if they participate in this program.  Update:  Schools that apply for this grant do not have to use an application that would make them a recipient of federal financial assistance.  If you do apply for this fund and are concerned about being a recipient of federal financial assistance, DO NOT register with SAM.gov and go the invoicing route, not the reimbursement route.  More information may be found here on the National Catholic Education Association website.  While this information is specifically for Catholic schools, it applies to other types of private schools as well.

This application is very similar to the E-rate application, so schools that already participate in the E-rate program have a head start in understanding this process.  It is a complicated process and application, but there are consultants ready to help.  David 
Sexauer is an expert in this field and can be reached at david@davidsexauer.com.

If you are not familiar with the E-rate program, which has been in existence since 1996, and would like to consider getting reimbursed for internet access and equipment costs, contact David Sexauer at david@davidsexauer.com.

Information for Child Care Centers: 
Resources for Child Care Centers:
While some of our early childhood centers have been able to take advantage of programs like the PPE distribution and rapid COVID tests, many are left out of federal programs designed for K-12 schools.  Here is a comprehensive guide to programs specific for child care programs compiled by the National Association for the Education of Young Children that might be helpful:  Navigating Relief for Child Care Providers – Google Docs

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.

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.

Other Helpful Documents

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.