BROWNSVILLE, Texas – The coronavirus has not subsided enough in Cameron County to allow in-person teaching in its public schools.

This is the view of the county’s health authority, Dr. James Castillo.

Castillo was asked by a reporter what it would take for him to sanction the re-opening of in-person classes at a news conference hosted Friday by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

“I am part of the Texas Medical Association’s school task force. I am trying to listen to the experts that are out there. We are trying to determine that exact question. Now at what level is it less risky?” Castillo responded.

“I have heard some experts say it is not safe. The question is when is it less risky. When is the risk low enough to make it tolerable? Right now the risk is extreme. We are almost the most infected county in Texas. It is too high a risk for schools.”

Castillo said he would like to know at what level the risk is low enough to allow in-person teaching at local schools.

“I really want guidance from the federal level, the state level, from experts. And from the experts I am hearing, it seems to be that when you are having, for a county the size of ours, when you are less than 45 cases per day, total, then it starts becoming less risky,” Castillo said.

There were 189 new cases of coronavirus reported on Friday in Cameron County. On Thursday, the number was 302.

“I wish there was more science about this. I wish there was more clear guidance from the experts about this,” Castillo said. “But from what I am seeing, that (45 cases per day) is about where we need to be to consider the risk to be low enough.”

Judge Treviño was asked by a reporter if he has the authority to keep schools from hosting in-person classes. He replied: “We feel we have the legal authority to do that. But, we are working in conjunction with the superintendents.”

Treviño said most of the conversations he is having on the subject are with the superintendents of public schools. However, he said he has started to get calls from private schools also.

“We are getting some inquiries from the private school. If they want to reopen, we are asking for their plans to comply with the CDC guidelines with regard to social distancing, mask wearing, and hygienic air. If they can provide us that, then Dr. Castillo will take a look at it,” Treviño said.

“We have the legal authority to force a closure. Hopefully it does not come to that.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Eddie Lucio has voiced his concern about the instructions being sent to school districts from state leaders. Specifically, Lucio does not like a threat issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that state funding to public schools could be blocked if in-person classes are not put in place.

Lucio recently wrote this letter to Gov. Greg Abbott:

August 6, 2020

The Honorable Greg Abbott Governor, State of Texas State Capitol, 2S.1
Austin, TX 78711

Dear Governor Abbott:

I write you on behalf of the Rio Grande Valley families that we represent and ask for your help in protecting their health and safety.

Valley school administrators and educators have deep concerns with Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recently issued school guidance.

Unfortunately, it may force schools to open their doors when it is not yet safe to do so. The unintended consequence of prolonging the public health crisis, which has taken the lives and has hurt so many families we represent, may regrettably occur. I respectfully ask your help to prevent this alarming possibility.

The coronavirus’ rapid spread has severely strained our local health care system. Thank you for visiting with our local officials and understanding the unfathomable health problems challenging our region. Our Cameron and Hidalgo constituents welcomed hearing that the Valley is Texas’ top priority and that critical resources to help flatten the curve of cases will be coming. Although Attorney General Paxton’s guidance is well intentioned, regrettably, it halts local public health efforts at supplementing the effectiveness of public resources you have committed to curtail the spread of COVID-19, especially among our children and staff in Valley public schools.

As a longtime proponent of local control, I agree that in ordinary times school boards and superintendents are best situated to determine the operations of schools. However, since the Valley is an epicenter of surging coronavirus cases, we are not living in ordinary times. In moments like these, the welfare of our children requires extraordinary action. You directing distance learning in March and preventing the dangerous spread of COVID- 19 was a commendable directive. With hospitals beyond capacity, our constituents in the Rio Grande Valley need a similar extraordinary action. Having their best interests in mind, I respectfully implore your help to allow hotbed regions of community spread COVID-19 in Texas to protect the health and safety of students and staff with localized solutions that embrace distance learning, rather than fight them.

Now that the Valley is unfortunately being challenged by two disasters, the pandemic and the destruction caused by Hurricane Hanna, I respectfully ask you to provide relief to our Rio Grande Valley families by safeguarding them from the unintended consequences of the Attorney General’s public school guidance.

Sincerely,

Eddie Lucio, Jr.
State Senator, District 27

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. James Castillo, health authority for Cameron County.


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