Texas deaths hit record, schools get OK for virtual classes

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas on Friday gave public schools permission to keep campuses closed for more than 5 million students well into the fall as the state scrambles to contain one of the largest resurgences of the coronavirus in the country.

California also issued strict guidance that makes it unlikely that many schools will resume in-person instruction this fall, raising the likelihood of empty classrooms in the country's two biggest states despite President Donald Trump's demands that schools welcome back students at the start of the school year.

The changes in Texas were announced hours before the state set a new daily record for virus deaths, with 174, and reported more than 10,000 confirmed new cases for a fourth consecutive day. It also follows a backlash from teachers and parents who criticized Texas' earlier timeline that had students returning to classrooms by August or September as rushed and reckless.

Under the new guidelines, Texas schools could hold online-only instruction for up to the first eight weeks of the school year, potentially pushing a return to campus in some cities until November. That includes Dallas and Houston, where school leaders concerned about the surge of COVID-19 cases have postponed the first day of classes until after Labor Day.

“The health & safety of students, teachers & parents is the top priority,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted shortly after the announcement.

Trump and his administration have demanded that schools fully reopen right from the start, calling for new guidance from federal health officials and slamming schools that want to bring students back for only a few days a week.

Texas' largest teachers organization dismissed Friday's announcement as underwhelming, saying it is based on an artificial deadline.

“Educators, students and their parents need assurance that school buildings will not be reopened until it is safe to do so. Right now, with the pandemic still raging across Texas, we don’t know when that will be,” Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement.