Texas public schools now must notify all staff and families of all students in a classroom if a child or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, a reversal from state public health guidance issued two weeks ago.

The Texas Education Agency updated its guidance Thursday to add the “more targeted notice requirements,” state Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Thursday in a call with superintendents.

“Consistent with school notification requirements for other communicable diseases, and consistent with legal confidentiality requirements, schools must notify all teachers, staff, and families of all students in a classroom or extracurricular or after-school program cohort if a test-confirmed COVID-19 case is identified among students, teachers or staff who participated in those classrooms or cohorts,” the updated guidance states.

The previous guidance required schools only to notify local public health agencies and the Department of State Health Services if someone on campus tested positive for COVID-19.

Last year, schools had to notify families and anyone who had been on campus of a positive case, as well as local and state officials. Morath said that strategy “proved not particularly helpful for anybody.”

“The notice is basically students in the room, not students on the campus,” he said.

Additionally, Morath said the TEA removed the section in the public health guidance regarding masks because of ongoing litigation between the state and several counties, including Bexar County. The new guidance appears to give school systems more flexibility over mask requirements.

“Mask provisions of GA-38 [Abbott’s executive order] are not being enforced as the result of ongoing litigation,” the document states. “Further guidance will be made available after the court issues are resolved.”

“The position on masks has always been from the state’s perspective that they shouldn’t be required,” Morath said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that individuals can’t use them or shouldn’t use them.”

San Antonio and Northside independent school districts have issued mask mandates, with San Antonio ISD going a step further to require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. North East ISD’s board was to meet Thursday to consider whether to adopt a mask mandate.

Other Bexar County school districts are enforcing mask requirements under the health directive issued by Dr. Junda Woo, the local public health authority who is the medical director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend everyone in school buildings wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, because of how contagious the delta variant of COVID-19 has proven to be.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.