HOUSTON – School districts in Harris County will not return to partial in-person learning until at least Sept. 8, according to an order signed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
Officials cited the county’s high coronavirus positivity rate, requiring school districts that had planned to offer both online and in-person learning to pivot.
The Klein Independent School District was one of them and its superintendent asked county health leaders Tuesday for clarity on how and when school campuses will be considered safe enough for in-person learning to return.
“Continuing to run a race without a finish line is no longer an option for us,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Jenny McGown.
What’s the issue?
McGown said while all school districts have trained for the race, for the most part, it’s become a challenge to continue to alter plans without much notice — plans that took months to develop.
“We have been hard at work since April planning for the start of this school year,” McGown said.
Klein ISD had planned to offer both in-person and remote learning. McGown said registration was split roughly 50-50, with more families opting for online learning.
“I think at this point we’re all very clear that responding to COVID19 is not a sprint it’s a marathon. One of the challenges we’re experiencing is that we’ve been running a marathon now and we still don’t have a clear finish line for what safe means,” McGown continued.
McGown’s letter, addressed to Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health and Dr. David Persse, health authority for the city of Houston, requesting more information when they think they would be able to make a decision.
“When the guidance continues to change of course that is very disruptive not only to the district in terms of the preparations that are being made to serve every student — it’s also disruptive to the lives of our families,” McGown said.
What’s the county’s response?
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo stressed she too wants in-person learning to return — but right now would be too soon because COVID-19 remains of serious concern.
“Right now we are at Red Alert,” Hidalgo said, referring to the county’s “severe” COVID19 treat level, which recommends residents stay home.
“We are at a point where people need to stay home, where no gathering should take place, much less in a school,” Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo said Tuesday that while she had not seen McGowan’s letter, her office continues to work with area school superintendents about safety plans going forward.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Tuesday said local school districts should decide how they will reopen.
“As it concerns when schools open, we need to make sure they’re not bound by any date dictated months in advance by a local health authority,” Gov. Abbott said during a press conference in San Antonio.
The Governor and Judge Hidalgo have been at odds over who has authority to decided when schools can reopen.