Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) Information
Public Health Guidance:
The TEA published new public health guidance on August 1st, 2022 here.
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.
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.
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.
Mental Health Expert Zoom:
Rebecca Suffness, PhD, of Austin Anxiety and OCD Therapists joined us to discuss anxiety and OCD in children. She is an expert on depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), trauma, generalized anxiety, and other anxiety disorders and discussed how she treats patients in her private practice and what she would like private school leaders to know about anxiety and OCD and other issues that seem to be affecting so many of our kids since the beginning of COVID. Tom Garrison of Jesuit College Prep in Dallas also told us about a few organizations that he has partnered with to help his students with mental health issues. The link to this very interesting Zoom video is here. Rebecca’s slides only are here. Notes on Tom’s resources are here. The brochure that Warren from Catapult spoke about is here.
COVID Testing Program:
Free Covid Tests from Vendors:
As expected, things are changing with this program. The grant for the 2022-2023 did require surveillance testing in order to participate, but then the CDC changed their recommendations and no longer recommended surveillance testing in schools. We have been waiting for them to change the requirements to participate in the testing program, and it has taken a while. We expect new guidelines that allow for only symptomatic testing by early next week.
- Application here due Sept. 22nd (but this will be extended when new guidance is released)
- Schools that applied and were denied due to not citing surveillance testing in the testing plan will be automatically accepted and enrolled.
- If you did not apply because of the screening requirement (or any other reason), you will be eligible to apply once the new requirements for application are released.
- Early childhood centers will be included now. This will be administered by DSHS and not the TEA, but we will send out information when it is available.
- Allocation list as of September 12th here. Questions? Email COVIDcasereport@tea.texas.gov
- Vendor resource sheet here.
- Vendor videos: Quest Diagnostics, Goodside Health, Thermo Fisher, Achieve Health Management, Bloom Health Partners
School Health Support Grant:
More money in the form of a direct payment is available for COVID mitigation for schools that do not worry about being a recipient of federal financial assistance. Schools that participated last year have been getting information about this directly from the TEA.
Rapid Tests NOT Federal Financial Assistance:
From the US Department of Education:
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.
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.
Houston schools have an additional option of getting PCR tests only from the City of Houston grant. Information here.
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.
- Supplies to sanitize, disinfect, and clean school facilities
- 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.
Good news! The ClassWallet platform has officially taken over EANS implementation and approvals are happening faster! The TEA agreed to absorb the 2.5% administrative fee for this more efficient process
- Office hours have resumed! ClassWallet will have a representative at office hours to answer your questions. Sign up here for the date of your choice.
- The video of the presentation about the transition to ClassWallet is here.
- Per federal and state guidance, anyone working on a campus that is being paid with EANS funds must complete the Region10 Criminal Background Check (which includes fingerprinting) and have approval from the R10 EANS team to be around students prior to employment. Region 10’s human resource department runs background checks weekly.
- Each school will see the total remaining allocation based on Laser Fiche & Google submissions (EANS I). Schools will receive an itemized list of transactions by the October 4, 2022. Corrections can be made in October.
- The TEA will be reaching out to schools that have not spent any EANS money in October.
- Any questions about ClassWallet should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you been wondering what will happen to all of the equipment purchased by EANS funds when the period of the grant is over? We got some information from the US Department of Education at our private school meeting in DC this week, and an updated summary may be found here. In a nutshell, private schools may keep any EANS 1 or 2 equipment or supplies past the period of performance as long as it is still needed for purposes of the EANS program or another federal education program. They will still be under the control of the state, but they may remain in the private schools. We will likely get more direction from the state about how this will play out, but this is good news for schools that have been wondering what will happen at the end of the grant period.
Update on Reasonable Transportation:
The guidance from the TEA has been updated. Please find information about the EANS 2 Reasonable Transportation policy here. The EANS I Transportation Policy here. And the liability waiver for both EANS I and EANS 2 here.
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).
Other Pieces of the Federal Legislation:
***Employee Retention Tax Credit:
If your school has not looked into applying for refund for payroll taxes, please consider this option. You may complete this application yourself, or Andrew Brown (email@example.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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
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 DocOther 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.
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.
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
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.
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.