Due to the pervasiveness of the coronavirus pandemic in Harris County, local schools should start the year off virtually, said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, in a letter to school district superintendents July 20.

Hidalgo and Shah asked superintendents to consider taking advantage of new provisions from the Texas Education Agency, which allow districts to offer at least eight weeks of instructional time virtually at the start of the school year. Delaying in-person instruction would help protect the health and safety of students, teachers and the community as a whole, they said.

“We recognize that in-person instruction is vital for the educational development and social well-being of children and young adults. Schools provide much-needed food assistance to many lower-income families by offering students healthy meals and access to resources they may not otherwise have,” the letter reads. “And in-person instruction of children is crucial for many parents to carry out their activities. However, the prevalence of the virus in our community means that it would be unsafe for schools to return in-person at this time or in the near future.”

Harris County has confirmed more than 57,000 cases of the coronavirus since early March, with 37,844 of those being active as of July 20. The county’s COVID-19 threat level remains at Level 1, and the county is asking residents to avoid leaving their homes unless necessary.

Recommendations laid out in the letter for school districts include the following.

  • Schools should provide remote instruction for pre-K through 12th grade students until at least October. County officials continue to monitor trends and will update this timeline as needed.

  • School boards should accommodate families who do not have internet access or devices by providing remote learning resources.

  • Extracurricular activities, athletic competitions and other school-sponsored events should not take place on campus at least until in-person instruction resumes.

  • Schools should develop written health and safety protocols before resuming in-person instruction and on-campus activities. These plans should be communicated to parents and the general public.