Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) Information

Rapid COVID Testing

Application for Private School COVID Tests:
Information about the application for private schools to receive the free rapid COVID tests and PPE for administration of the tests is here.  The application itself is here.  There is currently no deadline for submitting this application. 

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.  Test must be disposed of in biohazard waste bags.  We are seeking clarification on what this process entails and how private schools may comply with this mandate.
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.

Updated health guidance from TEA dated November 5th:

1.  If an individual is asymptomatic, but has gotten a positive COVID test, that person should not come back to campus until 10 days have passed since the positive test.
2.  If a false positive is suspected and the individual wants to return to campus, a doctor’s note may be provided that states that the person does not have COVID (a specific diagnosis is not required) or 2 negative tests at least 24 hours apart are required.
3.  This does NOT change the quarantine period for a person identified as a close contact.  That time period is still 14 days because infection may occur at any point during that time. 

Austin Public Health has created these decision-making flow charts for schools that are administering the rapid tests that may be helpful.  A link to these documents is here.

 

Federal Financial Assistance:
We do not know yet if accepting and using these tests makes a school a recipient of federal financial assistance (in the same way that participating in the PPP program did).  We have this question into the top management of the TEA and an answer has been promised as soon as possible.  We will notify you as soon as we have any official clarification on this point. 

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

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.”

Please note that graduation guidance remains the same in the most recent executive order.

What About Accreditation?:
Some accreditation commissions have already released standards for their summer programs that are in progress.  For example, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops release their summer program standards last week and they may be found here.  Other accreditation commissions will likely have some direction for their schools.  Please contact them for this information.

Fall Public School Guidance:
There is new TEA Health and Safety Guidance as of November 5th, 2020.

The health and safety guidelines are here, some highlights:

  • public schools must post plans for on-campus instruction,
  • there are required screening protocols for everyone on campus,
  • there is a required protocol if the virus is documented on campus that includes contacting the local health department, closing the affected area and cleaning, and notifying everyone in the community,
  • masks are required according to the Governor’s latest executive order in counties with 20 or more active cases for children ages 10 or older,
  • desks are required to be 6 feet apart when possible.  If not possible, increased hand washing, sanitation, and air flow from the outside is recommended,
  • schools must have an entry and exit plan,
  • schools should reduce visitors on campus,
  • schools should reduce staff congregation.

This is the guidance for public schools, and private schools were directed by the Governor to create their own plan.  However, please remember that this document and any revisions thereafter are creating a standard of care for schoolchildren in Texas.  Deviating greatly from these recommendations could result in increased liability for your school.

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.

Reopening Plan Reviews:
There were a few counties that published requirements that public and private schools submit reopening plans to their office for review.  Under the TEA fall guidance, schools are not required to do this.  It states, “neither this summary document nor any local school system’s reopening plans are subject to approval by any government entity.”

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.

Reopenings – Other Helpful Documents

The official state guidance for child care is here Licensed child cares may open immediately to all families, not just essential workers. 

Centers for Disease Control Recommendations: 
The CDC has published simple decision-make flow charts for child care, summer camps, and school.  The CDC also released more detailed recommendations yesterday for reopening child care centers, summer camps, and schools here on pages 40-48.   These are recommendations and these documents defer to the state guidance linked above.

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.  

Private School Reopening Documents:
ACSI has provided a decision-making matrix for reopening here.  There was a suggestion on an NAIS webinar today to have a few students on campus to make a video of the health and safety procedures that you choose for your school.  This is a great way to test out the strategies with real children and to allow parents and students at home to see what will be expected of them on campus in the fall.

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.

Immunizations & Health Screenings

Vision and Hearing Screenings:
The Department of State Health Services is still determining whether vision, hearing, and spinal screenings will be required this year.  We will let you know as soon as a decision is reached.  In the meantime, for schools who are screening students, please refer to this best practices document for guidance on safely screening students this school year. 

There will be virtual Vision and Hearing Basics workshops beginning Sept. 1, 2020 for individuals who do not have current vision and hearing certification.  Please contact the Regional Coordinator for your area for more information and to sign up for training.  Regional coordinator contact information may be found here.  Please email vhssprogram@dshs.texas.gov with any questions.

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

Cares Act – Federal Relief

More Federal Relief for Schools:
Congress is working on another package of COVID-19 relief which is expected to include funds for K-12 schools.  CAPE is providing this legislative tool to let your representatives know to include families of private schools in this assistance. 

The Original Relief Package:
Texas was allotted $1,285,886,000 of the $13.5 billion in the CARES Act for coronavirus relief for US K-12 education. 
Here is the link where you may see what your local school district is entitled to.  Private schools will get a proportionate share of these funds due to the total K-12 enrollment of their school as of March.  This will happen in the same way that other federal funds have been distributed in the past – through equitable services. 

This means that  the local school district consults with each private school about their needs related to this pandemic and arranges to meet these needs by purchasing items or services that remain under the control of the local school district, but are in use at the private school.  This allows a school to avoid being a recipient of federal funds.  You do NOT need to have participated in these equitable services discussions before in order to participate now. 

Consultation Happening:
We hope you have made contact with the person in your local school district who is in charge of federal programs.  If not, a sample letter may be found here.  This is the person you will be consulting with in order to receive these services.  The local school district may not apply to receive their funds until they have consulted with every private school located in their district.  This does NOT include for-profit schools or stand alone preschools.

In order to be ready for your consultation, please have:

What These Funds Can Be Used For:

  • tutoring for next year
  • counseling for students
  • online subscriptions
  • Zoom licenses
  • technology (schools may not be reimbursed for purchases already made.  If you have already purchased technology, you may be able to have the vendor re-invoice the school district and issue a refund to the school.  Ask your school district about this possibility.)
  • PPE
  • thermometers
  • cleaning supplies
  • professional development

While you may have some acute needs now that could be immediately addressed (e.g. purchasing of distance education technology for students), you may also arrange to have some services delivered at a later time (e.g. scheduling a deep cleaning of school facilities a month prior to the academic year commencing in the fall). 

Any funding that is not used within one  year must be returned to the US Department of Education so that it may be reallocated to other states.

New Guidance on Equitable Services from the TEA:
The new guidance for equitable services may be found here.  This document outlines the new required calculations for private school services and what can be done for purchases already made and delivered.  Some highlights:
1.  If services and products were purchased and delivered before September 10th, those should remain on the private school campus for the length of the grant period.
2.  For reimbursements to the private school, those may still be paid if the commitment to reimburse was made before September 10th. 
3.  Private schools are not required to repay any funds that were already paid as reimbursements.

Consultation Complaints:
If you have had a consultation with your local school district that was unsatisfactory, please do try to communicate with the district to make sure they understand what your school needs to recover from this pandemic.  Also, keep all documentation of communication with the school district. 

If all else fails, we have an ombudsman at the TEA to help resolve disputes.  Please email PNPOmbudsman@tea.texas.gov.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

This legislation is designed to keep staff employed.  If you think your school might be interested in receiving one of these forgivable loans, the recommendation is to go ahead and apply here.  The actual loans come through your bank, so you may also go ahead and contact your back to get more information and perhaps to get the process started.

If you do access a loan and decide to use it, it is suggested that you put it in a separate account and pay only for eligible expenses (payroll, mortgage interest, interest on debt obligation, rent, and utilities) and keep detailed documentation of these payments.

PPP – We Have the Money, What Do We Do Now?:
This is a very important question to answer before you use the money that was provided by the Paycheck Protection Program.  As you know, using this money makes schools recipients of federal financial assistance, so you will need to consider the requirements of Title VI, Title IX, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 504.  This includes appointing a Title IX coordinator who is responsible for compliance for the school and looking at your 504 accommodations policy. 

Your school attorney will be helpful in making sure you meet all of these requirements, even if only for the brief time of the loan.  Fisher Phillips is also offering a package compliance program for $3,000 to make sure schools meet these requirements.  For more information, contact Kristin Smith at klsmith@fisherphillips.com

PPP and the Media:
It is possible that the Small Business Administration may be releasing a list of the recipients of these loans.  If you did apply and receive these funds, please make sure that you are ready and able to clearly articulate the need for these loans to your community and possibly the press.  The recommendation is to focus on the purpose of the loan, which was to make sure that all employees could continue to be paid.  Any school that received more than $2 million dollars will be audited. 

PPP Loan Forgiveness Information:
The latest update on PPP loan forgiveness for the original program that ended on August 8th is found here.  FAQs from August 4th are here.  Information about the new EZ loan forgiveness application is here, link to the actual EZ application is here and the regular loan forgiveness application is here.  You may apply for forgiveness now or wait for the inevitable changes that will come as this program evolves.  If you have not gotten back up to your original FTE employee count, it may make more sense to wait.

PPP Loan Forgiveness Update:
On October 12th, a simplified process for loan forgiveness for loans of less than $50,000 and a clarification on the deferral period for loan payments was announced.  Details here from Salmon Sims Thomas.

Other CARES Act Provisions

Payroll Tax Credit Deferral:
There are some other programs that are of benefit to private schools including a payroll tax credit of up to $10,000 per employee (Section 2301) and the option to defer payment of payroll taxes (Section 2302).  More information from BDO may be found here.  Previously, entities that took the PPP loans were not eligible for these deferrals, but this was changed so that is no longer true.

Unemployment Insurance:
There is language in the legislation increasing the amount of unemployment compensation that people are eligible for by $600 per week and extending eligibility to employees who may not have been eligible for these benefits before this health crisis. If you have laid off employees due to this disaster, you may encourage them to apply for unemployment insurance. They may be eligible now unlike before the passage of this new law. Again, details of these changes are to be determined.

The expansion of unemployment benefits DOES include a category of “partially unemployed.
 

FFCRA Reminder:
Now that teachers and staff are back in some school buildings, more questions have emerged about the emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the CARES Act.  These are in effect until December 31, 2020.  The Top 10 Things to know from Fisher Phillips that was published last spring is here with chart here.  Information about the tax credits that may be used to pay for this leave is here

A recently published Q and A about these leave programs from the Department of Labor may be found here

You will need to display a Department of Labor poster on campus as long as this law is in effect (until December 31st, 2020).  Since campuses are closed, an email to employees will suffice as notice of the new laws. The fact sheet and posters may be found here.
 
FFCRA Clarifications from the Department of Labor:
More information was provided on September 11th to answer some of the remaining questions about the leave programs specified in the CARES Act.  Fisher Phillips provides an analysis here and Jackson Walker here.  Some highlights include that employees still must ask employer permission before taking intermittent leave (unless this is due to a hybrid school schedule for children) and clarifies when an employee needs to give the employer documentation for leave.
 

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

Open Letter to Independent Schools:
There are many questions and few answers about how this school year will end and what next year will look like. This letter to private schools written by Ben Scafidi from Kennesaw State University offers the opinions of experts on the likely health environment for the next school year, financial implications for private schools, and educational considerations for the 2020-2021 academic year. This is a good framework for thinking through the next school year and formulating a plan.

NAIS Sharing Solutions:
The National Association of Independent Schools has set up a website called Sharing Solutions, which is open to all to share ideas and resources during this challenging time. You can post and browse school examples about distance learning, rethinking operations, caring for community, and more.

From the National Association of Independent Schools https://www.nais.org/articles/pages/additional-covid-19-guidance-for-schools/?utm_source=hpc&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=mc&utm_content=mc

From the Association of Christian Schools International: https://community.acsi.org/coronavirusresources/home – includes information about the Coronavirus as well as low-cost or free online learning, and tuition and employment information.

The Southern Association of Independent Schools is happy to share its resources, which are being updated constantly: https://www.sais.org/general/custom.asp?page=Coronavirus_Resources_for_Schools

A compilation of all free resources offered by Ed Tech companies
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.
 

Enrollment Plan for Next Year:
Mission Advancement is offering a low-cost service to help with strategies for enrollment for 2020-2021. Find out more here

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.