Judge Hidalgo, Gov. Abbott dispute who has authority to allow in-person learning

HOUSTON – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she is disappointed by Gov. Greg Abbott’s guidance on reopening schools. Hidalgo urges local school districts to follow an online-only approach while Abbott said each district should decide.

While most local school districts are starting the year of virtually, Hidalgo previously ordered all public and non-religious private schools within the county to remain closed until at least Sept. 8.

“We’re disappointed by today’s guidance from the state revoking local authority on school closures,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “The spread and impact of COVID-19 is worse now than it was during school closures in March. Case count and hospitalizations are many times higher now. We continue to urge schools to remain closed to in-person instruction per local health authorities. It may not be the easy thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.”

However, Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and other lawmakers Dennis Bonnen, Larry Taylor and Dan Huberty stated the power to make decisions about “when and how schools” reopen resets within the authority of the local school boards. Officials said districts can provide in-school instruction, remote learning, or a combination of the two.

“School boards have the ability to base their decisions on advice and recommendations by local public health authorities but are not bound by those recommendations,” officials said in the release Friday.

The Texas Education Agency previously announced districts have up to a 4-week back-to-school transition period, in which they can offer a solely remote instructional setting if deemed necessary for the health and safety of students, teachers, staff and parents.

After the 4-week period, districts can extend the transition period up to another four weeks with a vote of the school board and receiving a wavier. If any school district believes they need an extension beyond eight weeks due to COVID-19 related issues, the TEA will review that request on a case-by-case basis.

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