BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Cameron County school districts and elected officials are unified on when to reopen schools and how.

They want to start with distancing learning and no in-person instruction. They also want decision-making authority on when to re-open schools without being financially penalized by the Texas Education Agency.

As a group, ten school superintendents from Cameron County joined with County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., and the county’s health authority, Dr. James Castillo, in sending a July 16 letter to Gov. Greg Abbott.

The letter was also sent to Mike Morath, the TEA commissioner, and John William Hellerstedt, the Texas commissioner for State Health Services. 

In addition to Treviño and Dr. Castillo, the letter was signed by Rene Gutierrez, superintendent of Brownsville ISD; Arturo J. Cavazos, superintendent of Harlingen CISD; Cathy Lee Hernandez, superintendent of La Feria ISD; Gonzalo Salazar, superintendent of Los Fresnos CISD; Theresa Ann Alarcon, superintendent of Point Isabel ISD; Roger Ellis, superintendent of Rio Hondo ISD; Nate Carman, superintendent of Sane Benito CISD; Martin Cuellar, superintendent of Santa Maria ISD; Angela Gonzalez, superintendent of Santa Rosa ISD; and Marco A. Lara, Jr., superintendent of South Texas ISD.

Here is their letter:

Dear Gov. Abbott, Commissioner Morath, and Commissioner Hellerstedt, MD:

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr., Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo, and the local school district signatories, hereby respectfully request permission to be allowed to exercise their decision-making authority to reopen during the 2020/2021 school year without penalization.

This would allow local school districts to not commence in-person instruction until the rate of positive COVID-19 cases has reduced to an acceptable level, as determined by Dr. James W. Castillo, with consultation from Dr. Hellerstedt.

On July 15, 2020, Texas ranked only behind New York (No. 1), California (No. 2), and Florida (No. 3) with the most confirmed positive COVID-19 cases – 275,058, in the nation. Texas has seen an increase of 64,473 new cases in the last seven days, surpassing New York and California, which only had 5,092 and 58,734 new cases, respectfully.

Out of Texas’ 254 counties and as of July 15, 2020, Cameron County has the 12th most positive cases in the state – 4,905, of which, 2,235 are active. Since the 4th of July Holiday, daily new reported cases jumped from 87 new cases to 415 new cases. Data shows that the County is in the midst of an unprecedented spike. According to the Cameron County Health Department, this is possibly the first of many 300-plus cases-a-day events over the next two weeks, which is well above the level considered to represent substantial community spread.

Additionally, Valley Baptist Medical Center (VBMC) Harlingen, VBMC Brownsville, Harlingen Medical Center, and Valley Regional Medical Center, the four largest hospitals in the County, have surpassed their capacity and will be unable to handle any further increase of hospitalizations during the time of this spike.

School districts across the County have developed contingency plans to include full-time remote/online instruction, hybrid instruction, and in-person instruction. These strategic entry plans have been developed with prioritized safeguards for the health, safety, and well-being of our teachers, campus staffs, and students through the use of full-time remote/online learning instruction. 

Accordingly, on July 14, 2020, Cameron County Judge Treviño along with Cameron County Health Authority, Dr. Castillo issued the Joint Cameron County Health Authority and Cameron County Judge Emergency Health Control Order Delaying in Person Face-to-Face Public and Private School instruction until after September 8, 2020.

Collectively, it is the aim of these signatories to slow the spread of COVID-19 until an effective vaccine can be developed, manufactured, and distributed, and to continue to follow the Governor’s executive orders. However, at the current rate of infection in Cameron County, remote/online instruction is the most practical way to educate Texans while protecting their health.

Therefore, we ask that the Cameron County Judge, along with the school districts, be allowed to exercise their decision-making authority to reopen during the 2020/2021 School Year without penalization. 

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Brownsville ISD Superintendent Dr. Rene Gutierrez.

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