A new Tarrant County executive order is pushing back the start of in-person learning at schools until Sept. 28.
Local health authorities said the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has yet to level off in a way that would allow for a safe reopening of in-person learning. Tarrant County reported 663 new cases from July 20-21.
“We are terribly afraid that if we don't make some effort to just delay the opening of schools—to let the numbers kind of flatten out a little bit—that we might jeopardize our capacity to care for people," said Dr. Catherine Colquitt, the county’s medical director. “That gives us a whole incubation period with COVID[-19], plus about six more days to see the downstream effects of Labor Day."
There are some exceptions to the ruling that will push back in-person learning, Colquitt said of the order, which went into effect July 21. Those exceptions include students who do not have access to an internet connection and those whose education plans cannot be accomplished remotely, as well as special education students.
Additionally, there are exceptions for certain activities, such as band, choir and sports, that can be conducted either remotely or outside while adhering to mask and social distancing guidelines, Colquitt said.
The order only applies to public schools and private, nonreligious schools, according to the executive order.
"We are urging the religious private schools to adopt guidelines that look like these because we think this is ... the best compromise agreement that we could come up with that respects what COVID is doing in our community and tries to stave off the effects a little bit longer,” Colquitt said.
The order states that school facilities may also continue to be used by personnel for the purpose of providing virtual learning as well as for the distribution of free and reduced lunch services.
School districts must provide a written plan for hosting in-person instruction and extracurricular activities two weeks before campuses reopen, according to the order.
In a letter to families and staff, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Superintendent Robin Ryan said the first day of remote instruction for the district will still be Aug. 17. The district is now adjusting its remote learning plan to adhere to state requirements, he said in the letter.
"Remote learning in fall 2020 will be a different model from Learning@Home in the spring,” Ryan said in the letter. "We will include academic and social/emotional support to continue to meet the needs of our students and staff, while also meeting state requirements for accountability and student academic progress."
Keller ISD's communications team said the district will begin holding remote classes Aug. 19 and will begin in-person classes Sept. 28. The district is still asking families to indicate whether their student will participate in virtual or in-person learning for when campuses reopen.
Carroll ISD's leadership team announced that the school year will begin with online-only instruction, but teachers and support staff will be allowed on campuses to deliver their lessons. The district is also reviewing recent University Interscholastic League modifications for the 2020-21 school year, and its athletic department will provide more information as soon as possible.
A Northwest ISD spokesperson confirmed all students will begin the school year as remote learners on the district's original start date, Aug. 20. Superintendent Ryder Warren will also provide an update on the district's plan for the new UIL calendar at a July 23 Facebook live chat at 6 p.m.
Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath announced July 17 that local school districts would have the flexibility to push back the start of in-person learning.
"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% of the way," Morath said in a video announcement. "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."
"As a result," Morath continued, "our framework ensures that there will be on-campus instruction available for all students who need it in the state of Texas. But at the same time, we know we need to provide local schools flexibility to adapt to local health conditions, especially given the rise in COVID[-19] cases that we're seeing across the state.