Texas school districts now have the option of offering online-only classes for the first four weeks of the 2020-21 school year, according to additional guidance released by the Texas Education Agency on July 17.

According to a July 17 news release, the new guidance aims to give school districts more flexibility to bend as needed to meet the public health needs of their respective communities.

"Today we've announced that every school that needs it can adopt a four-week back-to-school transition window, where instruction can be fully virtual if need be," TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said in a video statement July 17. "This should give us time to work collectively to flatten the curve on this epidemic. And at the same time if that is insufficient time, local school boards have the ability to adopt an additional four-week transition window, should that be necessary."

However, the new guidance does come with exceptions. According to the release, students who lack internet access at home or access to internet-enabled devices and therefore cannot participate in remote learning will be entitled to on-campus instruction every day during the transition period.

"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. "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, 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."

In addition to the four-week transition period, the new guidance allows school districts the ability to convert high schools to a full-time hybrid model once students transition back to on-campus learning, with school board approval. According to the release, this model will provide for a more socially distanced school experience as students will receive instruction both on-campus and remotely. Additionally, school districts continue to have the option of delaying the start of the school year as another step to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

"To our Texas teachers, what you do in normal times is nothing short of extraordinary; helping eager young minds become the best versions of themselves," Morath said. "But these are not normal times. We will support flexibility at the local level to ensure that all of our schools remain safe and are available to our kids."

According to the release, school districts will be required to publicly post a summary of their district's specific plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at least one week prior to the start of on-campus instruction.