In the past two days, Gov. Greg Abbott and officials with the Texas Education Agency indicated local health authorities will have more of a say in how schools reopen – virtually or in-person.

On Wednesday, a TEA spokesman said local health authorities, such as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, can order campuses closed because of public health conditions, and school districts can remain eligible for State funding if they offer online instruction during these campus closures. Previously, State education officials mandated school districts offer a full-day, in-person option for all students returning to school this fall.

As a result, Metro Health announced Wednesday night it would stand up a task force to recommend how schools should reopen this fall.

“We’ve heard from many parents, teachers, and administrators with concerns about starting the school year with in-person instruction while cases of COVID-19 are surging in Texas,” said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and interim Metro Health director, in a statement. “This task force will work together to help us make an informed decision about the best way to proceed with the health and safety of our children and all school staff as our highest priority.”

The task force will include parents, students, teachers, teachers’ unions, school districts, universities, pediatricians, and public health professionals. It will meet this week to make recommendations.

It was unclear who would serve on the task force as of Wednesday night.

Elsewhere in Texas, some local health authorities have already taken the step to mandate campus closures. In El Paso, the local health authority ordered campuses closed through Sept. 8.

School officials expect further guidance on this subject from the Texas Education Agency on Thursday.

Lacking this guidance, schools have had to navigate the public health crisis and a looming start date for classes. On Tuesday, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez announced the first three weeks of school would be conducted virtually.

Martinez indicated he wouldn’t necessarily support an across-the-board closure of campuses because he’d like to bring some students in special circumstances back on campuses.

In an interview with the Rivard Report on Wednesday afternoon, Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods agreed, saying he’d like some flexibility to bring select students back onto campus.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.