Executive Order GA-23; Schools May Reopen June 1, 2020 Subject to TEA Guidelines
by Holly James
Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-23 on May 18, 2020 as part of the continuing effort to reopen previously shuttered services due to COVID-19. As in his prior orders, GA-23 contains the following primary mandate:
In accordance with guidance from DSHS Commissioner Dr. Hellerstedt, and to achieve the goals established by the President to reduce the spread of COVID-19, every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain Covered Services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. People over the age of 65, however, are strongly encouraged to stay at home as much as possible; to maintain appropriate distance from any member of the household who has been out of the residence in the previous 14 days; and, if leaving the home, to implement social distancing and to practice good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation. (Emphasis added.)
Essential and reopened services are now referred to as “Covered Services”; the full list of what services may open under GA-23 is available here. Governor Abbott has since expanded that list of Covered Services by proclamations issued on May 22, 2020 and May 26, 2020 (driver education programs, food-court dining areas inside malls, water parks, and recreational sports programs for adults).
In providing or obtaining Covered Services, GA-23 encourages individuals, businesses, and other organizations to “use good-faith efforts and available resources to follow the minimum standard health protocols recommended by DSHS[.]” DSHS Minimum Recommended Health Protocols, by category, are available here.
GA-23 also allows schools to reopen beginning on June 1, 2020 for in-person classroom instructional activities and learning options, such as summer school programs, special education evaluations, specialized assessments, and individualized tutoring, under the minimum standard health protocols found in guidance issued by the TEA. TEA’s guidance concerning this reopening is available here. (*Note that this guidance replaces previous guidance released by TEA regarding teachers, staff, and student use of school facilities.*) TEA’s Summer Instruction guidance is a working document and should be consulted regularly prior to making any decisions regarding school activities after June 1st, as well as after any such activities begin to ensure continued compliance. Below is an overview of the guidance:
- Summer school in-person attendance must be optional for students.
- No more than 11 individuals should be in an enclosed area together regularly, for example as a class group. This includes teachers, staff, and students.
- All instruction should be held in spaces that allow desks to be placed at least six feet apart.
- If more than one group occupies a shared space, each group must be separated from the other by an empty space of at least 30 feet.
- Whenever possible and developmentally appropriate, there should be no group or pairs work that would require students to regularly interact within six feet, recognizing that this is not possible for early childhood students and some students with disabilities.
- No assemblies, field trips, or other group gatherings outside of the students’ class group, unless distancing of 30 feet between groups can be maintained.
- Students on campus should not participate in activities such as choir, playing wind instruments, or indoor sports, except as part of UIL-approved conditioning or training programs and consistent with UIL guidance.
- Indoor facilities must remain closed for purposes of athletic or fitness activities to unsupervised students and the community.
- Other than UIL-approved activities, outdoor sports are allowable only if they can be conducted in accordance with DSHS guidance.
- Maintain consistent groupings of people. Students should be taught in self-contained classes if possible or, if not possible, they should be exposed to as few different individual teachers as possible.
- Teachers and staff should self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming onto campus. Students should be pre-screened for symptoms before coming onto campus and at the start of every week of instruction.
- Consider having all employees and all students (for whom it is developmentally appropriate) wear cloth face coverings.
- Dividers should be placed on desks where possible if they can serve the purpose of shielding individuals from respiratory droplets.
- Develop a plan for entry and exit procedures on campuses.
- Develop a plan for use of common play areas.
- Develop a plan for increased teacher attrition and potential future illness of employees.
- Reduce the number of students on bus routes. Students should be seated at least six feet from other students on the bus.
With respect to handling positive cases, TEA’s Summer Guidance states that if a positive case of COVID-19 is identified for a summer school participant—whether teacher, staff, or student—the school must contact-trace and identify any individuals who had regular or close contact with the affected participant.
- Any of those individuals (the individual who tested positive as well as the individuals who had regular or close contact with the positive individual) must stay home for at least two weeks.
- All participants of the summer school program must receive written notification if a positive COVID-19 case is identified among summer school participants (teachers, staff, or students).
- The school must also notify its local health department.
Teachers, staff members, or students who experience any of the COVID-19 symptoms identified in TEA’s guidance should self-isolate until the following conditions have been met:
1. If the individual was diagnosed with COVID-19, then all three of the following criteria must be met:
a. at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications);
b. the individual has improvement in symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and
c. at least ten (10) days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
2. If the individual has symptoms that could be COVID-19, but does not get tested or evaluated by a medical professional, the individual is assumed to have COVID-19 and may not return to work until the same three criteria listed above are met.
3. If the individual has symptoms that could be COVID-19 and wants to return to work before completing the above self-isolation period, the individual must obtain a medical professional’s note clearing the individual for return based on an alternative diagnosis.
The following COVID-19 symptoms are identified in TEA’s guidance:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
- Feeling feverish or a measured temperature greater than or equal to 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit
- Known close contact with a person who is lab confirmed to have COVID-19
On a personal note, we fully realize and appreciate the difficult decisions school districts are facing, particularly in light of TEA’s reopening guidance. We recognize this as former educators, as parents, as community members, and as your advocates. We see the hard work you are putting in, even as you work to care for your own families. We are here to support you in any way we can.