Families, educators, and students all felt a bit of whiplash in the past few weeks as the State issued new rules and guidance on how schools could reopen. It can be confusing to keep up to date with the newest information.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about how schools will resume class this fall.

Can students choose to learn in person or at home?

Students will be able to choose how and where they want to learn. Texas requires school districts to offer an in-person option for any student who wants it, but does not require districts to offer at-home learning options. However, most Bexar County districts have indicated they will allow students to choose either.

Can students switch between in-person and at-home learning throughout the year?

Students can switch between in-person and at-home learning, although they might need to stay with one or the other for a full grading period. The State allows districts to limit these transitions to occur only at the end of a grading period. Based on a student’s school district regulations, they might be able to switch more frequently.

Have all local school districts decided how they will reopen?

Not all districts have published reopening plans yet. Earlier this week, San Antonio, North East, and Northside ISDs announced they would begin their school years entirely online, but have not published plans detailing how – or when – campuses will reopen.

The State requires districts to publish a summary of their plan at least one week prior to the start of on-campus activities and instruction. The plan should state what the district will do to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

When will schools be allowed to open for in-person instruction?

A San Antonio Metropolitan Health order issued on Friday night prohibited schools from opening for in-person instruction until after Labor Day.

Can school districts offer only instruction online for the 2020-21 school year?

No. The State mandated that districts must offer an in-person option for all students who want it. However, Texas education officials are allowing districts a phase-in period. Districts can offer instruction online only for up to eight weeks to begin the year. After that, in-person instruction must resume.

Even during this eight-week period, districts must offer in-person instruction if a student or family does not have access to the internet or appropriate devices for remote learning.

Can school districts offer some instruction online and some in person?

Yes, although it is unlikely most districts will offer this blended model because of the State requirement that districts offer a full-day, in-person option for any student who wants it. The one exception is for high schools.

New TEA guidance released Friday allows districts to offer a hybrid option only at the high school level. The only requirement is that districts offer allow students to spend at least 40 percent of the grading period learning on campus.

What will remote learning look like? Will it look the same as it did in the spring?

Remote, or online, learning can take one of two forms: “synchronous” in which teachers provide live lessons via videoconference at a set time, or “asynchronous” in which students work at their own pace and can access their lessons outside of regular classroom hours. Both will be subject to the same grading requirements as students learning on campus.

Students must attend 90 percent of class days to get credit for the course.

The State implemented stricter requirements for how remote learning should look in the fall. Most school districts have already indicated anyone choosing remote learning for the next semester will find it looks different than it did in the spring.

While schools relaxed grading procedures in the spring to allow students to adjust to the new way of learning, grading won’t be eased in the fall. In addition, schools have spent months building up their remote-learning systems so that they provide a learning experience that is more comparable to what a student might experience in person.

Will students and staff be required to wear masks for in-person classes?

The State will require districts to follow Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate, which requires anyone over the age of 10 to wear a face covering in counties with more than 20 coronavirus cases. This order currently applies in Bexar County.

Should Abbott repeal his mandate, districts would have the power to require masks for adults and students.

What other health precautions will campuses take to mitigate the spread of coronavirus?

Most public health decisions are left up to individual school districts, but the State has issued a few requirements. School districts must screen teachers and staff for coronavirus symptoms before they come onto campus each day. This screening includes a temperature check. Schools can choose to screen students but are not required to do so.

In addition, the TEA recommends schools have hand sanitizer or handwashing stations at each campus entrance, institute more frequent cleaning practices, open windows when possible to improve airflow, and space desks a minimum of 6 feet apart. The State agency also recommends students gather outside when possible and that schools should consider eliminating large indoor gatherings like assemblies.

What will happen if someone contracts coronavirus on campus?

If anyone who has been on campus has a confirmed coronavirus case, the school must notify the local health authority and close off areas that were heavily used by the person with the confirmed case. Schools can close for up to five days to clean the areas in use.

Schools must also notify all teachers, staff, and families of the confirmed coronavirus case.

Can the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District close campuses?

Yes. State law allows local health authorities to close campuses because of public health conditions. A TEA spokesman confirmed earlier this week that schools can continue receiving funding if they offer remote instruction when campuses are forced to close.

Metro Health announced Friday evening that announced it would prohibit any public or private schools from opening with in-person instruction until after Sept. 7. This means schools can’t offer instruction on campus or host school-sponsored events and activities, including extracurriculars or athletic competitions, until after Labor Day.

Do religious schools have to follow local health authority orders that close campuses?

No. On Friday, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion exempting religious private schools from following local public health orders.

“In accordance with the protections granted by the First Amendment and Texas law, this guidance allows religious private schools to determine for themselves when to reopen free from any government mandate or interference,” Paxton wrote.

Are charter schools subject to TEA’s regulations on school reopenings?

Yes. Charter schools are subject to the same guidelines as traditional public school districts.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.