AUSTIN, Texas — On Tuesday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott ordered all school districts and private schools in the county to delay reopening on-campus instruction.
The emergency order was issued in response to a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the region and is effective immediately.
According to the order, school systems cannot reopen for on-campus, face-to-face instruction until after Sept. 7. Virtual instruction will be permitted.
Additionally, no extracurricular sports or activities are allowed to take place until school systems reopen for on-campus instruction.
The order also states at least two weeks prior to reopening on-campus activities, the school or district must develop a plan to be submitted to the Austin-Travis County health authority and make the plan available for parents and the general public.
Dr. Escott said direction and guidance for reopening will be issued before Sept. 7.
“The big challenge is maintaining operations when people get sick, especially when faculty and staff get sick as we see every year with influenza,” said Dr. Escott. “Imagine that COVID-19 is twice as contagious as the flu. There would be a large impact on the continuity in individual schools primarily providing in-class education.”
On Wednesday, the TEA said schools will not lose state funding for keeping classrooms closed as the result of a local health order.
The largest school district in the state, Houston ISD, said it will continue remote learning until at least Oct. 16. Austin Public Health said it will continue to monitor the situation.
In response to the TEA decision, Round Rock ISD said it appreciates the flexibility of the state to allow local decisions:
"In Round Rock ISD, our educators want nothing more than to welcome all 51,000 students back on our campuses," the school district said in a statement. "We know that being physically in school is the best place for students. Beyond academics, students need the social and emotional benefits of interacting with their peers and teachers and many of our students desperately need the support services they receive in schools.
"We're also concerned that in a virtual learning environment, we can't ensure equitable circumstances for all of our students. But, first and foremost, we must protect the health and safety of our students and staff, their families, and our entire community. We can only do this by adhering to guidance based on data and medical evidence issued by our local and state health agencies. By doing everything we can to protect our community now, we will create a quicker route to all students and staff back in school safely."
In addition to the order on schools, Dr. Escott also adopted rules that align with Austin City Council's actions, creating an offense and penalty for those who violate health and safety mandates made to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Those rules are in place until Nov. 12.
The list of rules include:
- Wearing a mask or face covering where you're required to, like inside businesses
- Practicing social distancing with people you don't know and keeping groups to 10 or fewer
- Staying within Austin if you test positive for COVID-19
- Mentioning to your health care provider or a first responder that you're positive for COVID-19 if you come in contact with them
The full list of rules can be found here. If you're caught breaking any of these rules, you could face a fine of up to $2,000.
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