How Texas Schools Are Responding To The Coronavirus Outbreak
Districts across Texas are scrambling to keep students learning during school closures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Here’s a look at preparations in some key areas.
Keep in mind that plans may change in response to changes in advice from medical authorities and the extent of infection in Texas communities.
Many districts and schools have created webpages for posting updates on procedures related to coronavirus, like this one for the Texas Education Agency, this for Dallas ISD, this for Fort Worth ISD, this for Denton ISD, this for Plano ISD, this for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas and this for Uplift charter schools. Check such sites often for updates on your local school district or your child’s public, private or charter school.
State testing waived
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that he has waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year.
He is also working with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to be sure that schools deliver resources to help students keep learning at home if they miss school for illness or while schools are closed. This includes tailoring instruction for students with special needs so that they have access to the same education as other students in the district.
Abbott is also asking the U.S. Department of Education to waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year. The state will distribute more information as it develops. TEA is posting updated information on its Coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage.
The Texas Private Schools Association tweeted that it is participating in daily calls with the TEA commissioner to stay updated on responses to coronavirus. The association will send daily updates to anyone who signs up for its e-newsletter mailing list. Or you can send an email to Laura@TexasPrivateSchools.org.
TPSA is participating in daily calls with the Commissioner of TEA in order to get updated on the Coronavirus. We are sending out summaries of these calls. If you are not on the e-newsletter mailing list, and would like these daily updates, email Laura@TexasPrivateSchools.org— TX Private Schools (@TXPrivateSchool) March 13, 2020
Many schools extending closures
Many schools and districts across Texas are extending spring break by one or two weeks while others have decided to close schools for several weeks to prevent spread of the virus and provide deep cleaning on campuses even if none of their students have confirmed cases of the virus.
Gov. Abbott has now ordered schools closed statewide until at least April 3.
“But this does not mean education stops,” Abbott said at a press conference. “Instead superintendents should continue to work with the Texas Education Agency to continue online or additional educational options."
The governor's order comes after school districts were issuing their own closures.
Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, announced that for now its schools would reopen April 13.
Dallas ISD has announced it’s closing indefinitely. The district had been on spring break through March 20 and had canceled all events and activities until further notice.
Fort Worth ISD was on break last week and announced Monday that the district will remain closed through March 29. The district is also canceling all activities, including athletic events, UIL competitions, athletic strength conditioning sessions and travel for both adults and children through March 29.
Denton ISD reports that it is one of eight Denton County districts that will be closed through April 3.
The Catholic Schools Office of the Dallas diocese has closed all diocesan and private schools through March 27. They will use e-learning and remote learning.
The Texas Education Agency has posted a list of school closings as of 9 a.m. Monday, March 16, with plans to update the information as schools and districts provide it. The list shows dates of spring break and additional closure dates that are planned for individual schools, public school districts, systems like Catholic archdioceses, charter networks and other categories.
Colleges and universities extend closures
Many colleges and universities are extending closures beyond spring break as well, with many planning to finish the school year with online classes.
The Dallas County Community College District announced Monday that its seven colleges will extend spring break for students by one week, through March 29. Classes will resume on March 30 in an online-only format, which will last through at least the end of April. Limited on-campus operations will also resume on March 30 to support students. The move will provide time for the DCCCD to shift to online and remote operations.
Texas Christian University announced it's moving to online-only classes through the rest of the spring semester. The Fort Worth college had extended its spring break through the rest of this week amid uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.
TCU joins a number of other schools in forgoing in-classroom instruction, including Paul Quinn College, Texas Wesleyan University, University of North Texas, UT-Arlington and UT-Dallas. Other area colleges have temporarily moved instruction online, and plan to re-assess whether classroom instruction should resume later.
No decisions have been made about commencement at TCU, according to a letter from the school’s chancellor posted online March 19.
TEA, districts and schools are discussing how to provide learning materials if schools remain closed for several weeks. Many districts are providing packets of materials for some students, including those without internet access at home, and discussing how to provide online resources that can be used on computers, tablets and phones at home. Some districts are also surveying families about their access to technology away from school.
Dallas ISD has created a webpage of At-Home Learning Guidelines in English and Spanish for students and families to consult. The page has online courses and recommends resources for all grade levels.
As the Fort Worth school district launches distance learning due to the coronavirus outbreak, it's asking students to reset their online district passwords. A guide helps users through the process step-by-step. It’s online here.
The district says resetting the password will take about 10 minutes but will help assure security. But users must change the password on a different device than the school district Chromebooks. The device can be a desktop computer, another laptop, a smartphone or an iPad. After the password’s reset, users can access their district-issued Chromebook. For more information, Fort Worth ISD’s help desk is 817-814-8378.
Schools and districts are also discussing how to provide food to children who rely on school meals as primary sources of daily nutrition if schools remain closed for several weeks. Some will extend programs already in place during spring break.
For example, Fort Worth ISD will provide “to go” meals for children who rely on eating each day in the school cafeteria. Through March 29, midday meals will be distributed Monday through Friday at eight school locations via Fort Worth ISD’s new food trucks. [Update: By March 23, Fort Worth will have 17 "meals-to-go" sites set up to feed families.] Click for information on food distribution times and locations in English and Spanish.
With the coronavirus crisis hitting during planned spring breaks, schools are deciding how to work with faculty, staff and families who travel over the break. Dallas ISD is asking staff who traveled to Level 3 and Level 2 countries during spring break to fill out a travel form. There’s a separate travel form for families who travel to any of the Level 3 or Level 2 countries. The form for families is in English and Spanish.
College entrance exams
The two major college entrance tests have been postponed because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
The College Board, which administers the SAT test, has cancelled the May 2 test date. It also says a makeup date for the March 14 test has also been cancelled. Students who registered for the May test will get refunds.
Also, for the same reason, the ACT has canceled the April 4 national test and rescheduled it for June 12.
Both organizations say they will communicate with customers soon about next steps.
KERA's Denita Powell Malvern, Bill Zeeble and Christopher Connelly contributed to this report, which was first published March 16 and has been updated.