Dear Commissioner Morath: 

Thank you for all that you have done to support Texas public schools. The current health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a number of dilemmas for public schools. I am requesting your guidance and reconsideration of TEA’s current position on school re-opening for the upcoming school year in light of the recent surge in new cases and hospitals quickly running out of capacity. 

I do not write this letter in a cavalier manner or with the intent to achieve notoriety. Rather, I am growing impatient with the State’s response to the current pandemic as it relates to our public schools. As a former educator, I know how passionate our educators are for the educational well-being of their students. I also know that they are not robots. 

Having taught in a classroom, I have first-hand experience with having caught a cold or flu inside a school building often. Similarly, the possibility exists for countless students, teachers, administrators, and support staff to contract and spread the coronavirus. 

Already, a number of teachers and staff in schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley have contracted the virus. At least two in my city have recently died from it. I have inquired with administrators and educators in my district on the precautions their schools are undertaking and their comfort level regarding the potential for exposure. Every single person I spoke with is concerned if not outright frightened. 

It only takes one or two students who are asymptomatic to spread the virus to classmates and/or educators campus-wide. The family members of the newly infected students and of the educators would then be at risk of likely infection as well. If only one person were hospitalized per campus, these new hospital patients would be in trouble. 

Already 10 of the 12 hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley are at capacity. All of the hospitals in my county are beyond capacity. If any one school campus in the Valley were to have an outbreak, the potential for grave illness and loss of life is very real. Of similar import is the lack of confidence by parents and students to be kept safe inside a school building. 

Currently, numerous public schools are considering delayed start days, limited in-person instruction, remote learning, etc, based on TEA’s Planning Guidance dated July 7, 2020. I have grave concerns that TEA’s guidance is not based on actual public health concerns. 

TEA fails to address why Texas public schools should begin at the start of the traditional calendar or why on campus instruction is even necessary. Currently, infection rates in Texas are at an all-time high. It would be prudent to wait to see if the number of cases vastly reduce as well as waiting for hospital capacity to increase. Furthermore, you do not provide a compelling argument as to why in person instruction is necessary. 

Colleges and universities nationwide are transitioning to virtual instruction and their students only attend classes for 15 hours per week. What is really driving TEA’s push to return to campus? 

In addressing the risk and impact to educators should the state require in-person instruction, TEA should take into serious consideration not only the health of Texas educators but also the quality of instruction should educators become ill or heaven forbid, an educator succumbs to the virus. How quickly will schools run out of substitute teachers? Furthermore, how likely are schools to even obtain substitute teachers for a campus where educators are getting infected? 

Additionally, I am concerned with some of TEA’s guidance given on Page 4, Paragraph 1.i. under Individuals Confirmed or Suspected with COVID-19. I am worried at a 72-hour period after a fever has reduced is not only not enough time for a student/staff member to return to campus and that there is not enough medical evidence to ensure that that person is no longer contagious. 

I strongly believe that you are in the best position to convince Governor Abbott that a delay in the start of the school year is prudent and that schools should be given deference as to the best method of teaching their students not only for the sake of the students but also educators and staff. 

In conclusion, I am asking that you and TEA to do the following: delay the start of school until the virus spread (is under control) and/or allow school districts to decide for themselves what level of in person or virtual instruction is appropriate, maintain public school funding at least to 2019-2020 levels, and reimburse school 100% of necessary building and transportation expenses needed to provide safe schools. I await your response and hope to continue an open dialogue in the best interest of all Texans. 

Kindest regards, 

Alex Dominguez

State Representative, District 37

Editor’s Note: The above guest commentary was penned by state Rep. Alex Dominguez of Brownsville. It is based on a letter Dominguez sent to Mike Morath, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. The letter was sent July 10, 2020. The commentary appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the approval of Rep. Dominguez. To reach Rep. Dominguez email: [email protected]

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