State Representative Dan Huberty issued a letter dissenting to the recent order given by Harris Country officials mandating temporary school closures.
On Friday, Harris County and City of Houston Health Officials issued an order to effectively shut down in-person instruction for all schools in Harris County until at least September 7, 2020. The order halts all extracurricular activities, student athletic training and strength conditioning even though many districts had already issued safe and responsible guidance and protocols.
I believe the plan is ill-conceived, and misguided. Judge Hildago and I spoke for the first time on Thursday where she led me to believe I was being asked to provide input. But it became clear during that conversation that she had already made her decision.
I was notified on Friday by Judge Hildago that she was moving forward with the order. This order goes against everything Harris County and the City of Houston have fiercely complained about during this entire pandemic, local control.
As she explained in our first phone call, the order is simply political cover for school districts who were feeling pressure about reopening and did not want to be caught between the differing needs and wants of parents and employees. Even more alarming, she also indicated this order will likely be extended to October!
At the state level, we spent months working with superintendents, teachers, and medical advisers to offer thoughtful options for safely re-opening schools this fall ensuring maximum flexibility to our Independent School Districts. We listened to all parties, and while it may not address every concern it represents a balanced approach based on the best medical data available.
Texas Education Agency guidance is clear, school districts are to work in conjunction with the Department of State Health Services, local health authorities, staff, teachers, parents, and elected school boards to create a plan that best meets their specific needs. Judge Hidalgo’s order contradicts the state guidance by requiring every school district in Harris County to present a plan to the County and City for official approval to reopen.
My advice to Judge Hidalgo, based upon months of work at the state level was clear and simple:
- Permit students with Special Needs to receive in-person instruction. This most vulnerable student population have not been in school for six months and desperately need to receive services as prescribed by their IEP (Individual Education Plan).
- Allow students who lack internet connectivity or hardware, foster children, and homeless children the ability to also attend in-person as these children’s ability to receive remote virtual education is limited.
- Allow the children of educators who will be providing virtual instruction on campus to attend in-person classes, as childcare is an issue for our educators.
- Allow UIL participants to begin their activities, provided they follow proper guidelines; this includes football strength and conditioning, band practice, student organization meetings and various other activities.
We all care deeply about the health and safety of our citizens, teachers, staff, educating our children, and supporting parents who need to return to work. Judge Hidalgo’s order has severe consequences that cannot be overlooked:
- Data suggests the incidence of child abuse has dramatically increased since the initial school closures. This is directly correlated to school closures as teachers, and school nurses are most likely to spot and report abuse.
- Nutrition for thousands of students is further compromised with restrictions on occupancy that will impact campuses providing food distribution.
- Children with intellectual or physical disabilities receive nearly all therapies and service through schools, and these services are nearly impossible to provide through distance learning models.
- Students, now more than ever, need the academic and emotional support of school counselors and their peers.
- The public needs to return to work and lack childcare options. They depend on schools being open to educate their children and so they can feed their families.
As a former school board member, it is the responsibility of the elected school board to make decisions in the best interest of the children, parents, and their staff, and not to seek political cover from another elected official. We must work collaboratively to get our students back to school. This is just one more example of why we must continue to stand up and fight to protect our liberties and freedoms, otherwise we may turn around one day, and it will all be gone.
Chairman House Committee on Public Education