With the threat of COVID-19 still spreading in more areas of the country, most schools have canceled classes at least until the end of March.
Affected the most by the school closures are students from low-income households; more than 60 percent of Texas students are classified as economically disadvantaged.
Parents of these students are trying to come up with meal and child care options, while school districts grapple with how students can still receive instruction and resources without attending in person.
In Texas, more than 560 districts and charter schools have announced closures. Many schools are moving their instruction online using online learning resources, which allow students to access live instruction and homework.
But several problems arise from online learning, such as the capacity of teachers and students to adapt to online instruction, students having to learn on their own, special education instruction, and the access to the Internet — none of which have been addressed by school administrators.
On the federal level, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai suggested for Internet providers to create and/or expand programs for low-income families. And on March 12, Comcast announced they are increasing their Internet speeds to their customers.
And on Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott canceled the standardized testing requirements [STAAR] for public schools. The next round of nationwide ACT and SAT examinations have been postponed or canceled as well. Individual school districts will have to use the discretion in determining if students move up a grade level or graduate in May.
Beyond this decision, a spokesperson for Abbott released a statement Sunday saying the governor is confident that cities, school districts and universities will make the best decisions for their communities. Abbott has not provided any more direction, a contrast to the strategy of nearly 30 states which have mandated temporary school closures.
School closures make it difficult for families who rely on food assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and National School Lunch. According to Children at Risk, nearly 1 in every 4 children is considered food insecure.
Last week, the USDA announced that in the event of school closures and quarantine situations in low-income communities, they will exercise flexibility within the public nutrition programs to respond to the loss of meals. This will be effective until June 30.
Districts all across the state are also offering curbside pickup for meals. And Feeding Texas, the statewide network of food banks, has already started stockpiling emergency food boxes and sanitation supply kits — ensuring they will remain persistent in working with policymakers “to maximize public nutrition programs and to prevent hunger among the most vulnerable.
Last week, the Texas State Teachers Association urged school districts in the state to ensure that non-professional support staffers, or staff who are not on contract, continue to get paid.
In the last legislative session, State Rep. Diego Bernal introduced a bill on providing paid sick leave. At the time, it didn’t even receive a committee vote.
On Sunday, Bernal took to Twitter: “If you opposed paid sick leave nationally, statewide, or locally, I expect you to be working on that issue RIGHT NOW. People are hurting.”
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