Partisan tensions in the public have been noticeably high over government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, from the forced closure of businesses to mandated mask usage.
The reopening of schools is another issue on which Republicans and Democrats have starkly different views.
A recent Quinnipiac poll conducted among Texans shows that 68 percent of Republicans believe it will be safe to send students back to school in the fall, while 91 percent of Democrats believe it will be unsafe.
69 percent of Independents said that they believed it was unsafe, while 28 percent said it was safe.
After facing pushback from the public, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced new guidance last week that would allow schools to offer up to four weeks of “a remote instruction transition period at the start of the school year.”
The guidance also provides for school districts to petition TEA for an additional four weeks of remote instruction.
Under the guidance, schools are still required to provide in-person teaching for students without internet access at home.
On the same day that TEA announced the new guidance, Governor Greg Abbott and several lawmakers announced an allocation of $200 million from the federal CARES Act funding to TEA “for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for Texas students that lack connectivity.”
“As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction,” said Abbott.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also published guidance emphasizing the importance of reopening schools in the fall.
“The unique and critical role that schools play makes them a priority for opening and remaining open, enabling students to receive both academic instruction and support as well as critical services,” says the CDC guidance.
The document notes that minors comprise a disproportionately small number of cases and an even smaller number of deaths.
According to the CDC, 6.6 percent of reported coronavirus cases in the United States as of July 21 are among individuals less than 18 years old.
The same age group accounts for less than 0.1 percent of coronavirus-related deaths in the country.
Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) provides a similar outlook regarding the effect of the coronavirus on minors in the state.
Of the 30,000 cases that the department has investigated, 7.2 percent are among individuals 19 and younger.
And of the 774 coronavirus-related fatalities that have been investigated so far, zero have been among that age range.
Individuals over 65 years old account for 72 percent of the investigated deaths.
The CDC guidance said that “there is mixed evidence” regarding if reopening schools leads to “increased transmission or outbreaks,” noting that Denmark did not experience a surge when they reopened schools, while Israel did.
Texas’ reopening of childcare centers this summer was also referenced by the CDC, which noted that of the more than 1,300 cases in those centers, “twice as many staff members had been diagnosed as children, suggesting that children may be at lower risk of getting COVID-19 than adults.”
With school-aged children among the least affected by the virus, the CDC recommendations focus on taking steps to reduce the potential increase in transmission.
“We know that there are parents who are nervous and who want to keep their children home, and for that, we will support them with remote instruction 100 percent of the way,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.
“But we also know that the on-campus instructional environment is invaluable, that a child’s academic and social growth flourishes in a Texas public school,” said Morath.
The guidance to allow schools to postpone in-person teaching for a month is TEA’s attempt to balance the vocal concerns of some parents with the CDC recommendations.
Local school boards already have flexible control over the start date of classes, and those in urban areas that have seen the most number of COVID-19 cases have already pushed the beginning of the academic year farther back.
Most recently, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that they were pushing back the start date for schools to September 8.
Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that while localities can delay the reopening of public schools, they cannot delay the reopening of private religious schools.
Homeschooling is another option that many Texans are beginning to consider as the reopening of public schools is delayed.
In a press release following updated TEA guidance to require face masks in compliance with Abbott’s executive order, the Texas Home School Coalition said that they “saw an immediate increase in calls and emails from new families, with parents asking how they can start homeschooling.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.