State School Board Association Voices Displeasure with TEA Decisions

As school districts begin to firm up their plans, and local officials and public health experts watch a potential decline in cases carefully, staying up to date on the latest ways the pandemic can impact your life is important. These are today’s bullet points.

  • State school board association voices displeasure with TEA decisions;
  • Numbers of new cases appear to be slowing, but continue to vacillate;
  • Allred to host virtual town hall Tuesday;
  • H-E-B launches Summer of Giving initiative.
State School Board Association Voices Displeasure with TEA Decisions

Just days after Attorney General Ken Paxton released guidance that insisted that county health departments can only close down specific schools, not entire school districts and the Texas Education Agency changed its policy regarding school funding during the pandemic because of that guidance, the Texas Association of School Boards voiced its displeasure with the agency and the state.

The 71-year-old nonprofit, which was formed to help school boards train members and keep up to date on changes in state laws and policies, said that TEA Commissioner Mike Morath’s latest statement was creating additional challenges for school districts.

“This week the commissioner of education, using a non-binding opinion from the Attorney General, issued a statement that could create additional challenges for local school boards and administrators across the state because it tied funding to in-person instruction. Local school leaders want to get back to face-to-face instruction as soon as possible, but the decisions to open campuses should be made locally by district leaders without the fear of funding loss,”the statement, which was released by TASB on Friday, read.

“Public schools are governed and administered locally because that model allows for school boards and administrators to make the best decisions for their specific district and community. At a time when Texas children need insightful leadership from both state and local officials, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has instead created additional barriers to local efforts to problem-solve creatively, adding to the challenges of those trying to serve our children.”

The organization’s statement said that the reversal stood “in contrast to previous welcome steps that supported flexibility and progress for local leaders,” including additional technology funding, transition periods for districts for the first eight weeks of school, flexibility in offering various forms of remote instruction, waivers on STAAR grade promotion, as well as sustained funding for the spring semester.

“This week’s announcements, however, seem to take a step backward,” TASB’s statement continued. “While we understand the argument for doing away with blanket approaches that don’t meet the needs of every single school district, the Texas Association of School Boards does not agree with tethering school district funding with in-class instruction in the face of a pandemic. Each independent school district should have the authority, in consultation with their local health agencies, educators, parents, and their community, to make the best decisions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.”

“We implore TEA to rescind this decision based on a non-binding legal opinion and allow independent school districts the flexibility to make these important local decisions without the repercussions of lost funding. TEA’s role in these efforts is to help coordinate the flow of information from the state to districts, help districts solve problems, and provide guidance that will aid in districts’ decision making. When local health authorities state that it is unsafe to open classrooms, it is irresponsible for TEA to require them to do so.”

Numbers of New Cases Appear to Be Slowing, But Continue to Vacillate

A total of 1,839 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported by Dallas County health officials between Friday and Sunday, and an additional 24 deaths, bringing the county’s total case count up to 51,108, including 688 confirmed deaths.

For reference, last Sunday, the total case count was 46,813, and 605 deaths.

On Friday, the county reported 707 new cases and seven deaths; on Saturday, 614 new cases and 10 deaths; and on Sunday 518 new cases and seven deaths. 

Among the dead are a Dallas man in his 20s, a Dallas woman in her 30s, a Dallas man in his 30s with no underlying health conditions, a Dallas man in his 40s, two Dallas women in their 40s, a Dallas woman in her 50s, a Garland woman in her 50s, a Dallas woman in her 60s, a Dallas man in his 60s, a Garland woman in her 60s, a Lancaster woman in her 60s who died at an area emergency room, a Grand Prairie man in his 60s, a Duncanville man in his 60s with no underlying conditions, a Dallas man in his 70s with no underlying conditions, a Dallas man in his 70s, a Dallas man in his 80s, a Dallas man in his 80s who died at an ER, a Lancaster man in his 80s, and a man in his 60s who was an inmate at a correctional facility in Dallas. Unless noted, all of the deceased had underlying conditions. 

Long-term care facilities continue to account for a third of all COVID-19 deaths, including three men in their 60s who were residents of Dallas facilities (two of whom died at those facilities) and a woman in her 80s who lived at a Dallas facility, and died in a local ER.

“While the numbers this week are shaping up to be lower than they were at our high point reached earlier this month, they are still over four times higher than the average when the Governor’s Open Texas plan started. It’s imperative that everyone continue to use masks when around other people outside their home,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Friday. “Take your mask with you even if you don’t think you’ll be around other people and put it on if you come into contact with others. Please continue to avoid unnecessary trips for anything but work, essentials or outdoor exercise. Particularly avoid places where people cannot wear a mask one hundred percent of the time. The mask is not a substitute for a minimum of six foot distancing, so please keep your distance and please remember to use good hand hygiene and wash frequently.”

The county said that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday was 687 patients. Emergency room visits for COVID-19 symptoms also remain high, representing about 22% of all ER visits, according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.

UT Southwestern’s latest forecast projects that by August 11, Dallas County hospitals could see concurrent hospitalizations from COVID-19 decrease to between 540 and 840 cases. 

“In both Dallas and Tarrant counties, hospitalizations have remained high, but have flattened or potentially declined slightly over the last two weeks,” UTSW’s analysis said. “There is a gap in hospitalization data, as a new reporting system has been implemented, and we do not yet know if current numbers are directly comparable to numbers from the previous system.”

If those numbers hold true, analysts said that Dallas County could start seeing decreases in hospitalizations in the next two weeks, but since positive tests are still relatively high, it could be an indicator that there is more infection out in the community.

In the county’s July 31 aggregate report, most confirmed cases continue to be between the ages of 18 and 60, with the 18-40 age group accounting for 46% of the cases, and the 41-64 age group accounting for another 35% of the total cases.

Over 2,050 children under 18 years of age have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since July 1.  During this timeframe, 52 children have been hospitalized for COVID-19.  Of all confirmed cases requiring hospitalization to date, more than two-thirds have been under 65 years of age. 

Close contact or community transmission continues to be the biggest risk factor for contracting COVID-19,  accounting for almost 92% of all cases. Being incarcerated in a federal prison, living in a long-term care facility or being incarcerated in the county jail are a distant second, third, and fourth,  at 2.7%, 2.3% and 1.3%, respectively.

Of the testing done, positive cases accounted for 19% as of July 25, with 2,125 positives coming from 11,162 tests.  Testing and positive test results of COVID-19 far outpaces any other respiratory virus – even if you combine them all.

Thirteen percent of all cases ended up hospitalized – 21% ended up in intensive care, and 11% ended up on a ventilator.

In a city-by-city breakdown, Dallas still comes in with the highest number of cases – 26,596, or 53.2%. Highland Park has 41 (up from 39 last Sunday) cases so far, and University Park has 75 (up from 72).

Allred to Host Virtual Town Hall Tuesday

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred will host a telephone town hall Tuesday beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Allred is expected to give an update on the work in Congress to secure federal relief and recovery funds. He will be joined by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, and Dr. Julie Trivedi, an infectious disease expert at UT Southwestern.

To join in the conversation, RSVP here.

H-E-B Launches Summer of Giving Initiative 

H-E-B has launched the Summer of Giving, a new charitable initiative that, with the help of customers, looks to raise up to $2 million to benefit Feeding Texas and its network of food banks across the state. The fundraising effort will equal 20 million meals.

For H-E-B’s Summer of Giving initiative, the company will automatically donate a portion of proceeds from every customer transaction that includes at least one H-E-B Brand item. From July 29 through Sept. 8, H-E-B will contribute to the effort from transactions made in store, online, via the My H-E-B mobile app, and through Favor Delivery.

Locally, that includes transactions made at Central Market.

“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the burden on households has grown significantly with more and more families struggling to put food on the table,” said Winell Herron, H-E-B Group vice President of Public Affairs, Diversity and Environmental Affairs. “The H-E-B Summer of Giving initiative is another way we want to show our continued commitment to support food banks and other organizations working to help provide nutritious food to our most vulnerable communities.”

Since March, H-E-B has increased its support to Texas food banks during this crisis, donating more than 300 truckloads of food, which equals 7.5 million pounds of food or 6.2 million meals. At the onset of the crisis, H-E-B gifted nearly $2 million to 18 food banks affiliated with Feeding Texas and organizations, such as Meals on Wheels, that are dedicated to mobilized home feeding services for seniors and low-income families.

As the pandemic continues to take its toll on communities, food insecurity in Texas has grown to impact 1 in 4 families. Prior to the pandemic, it’s estimated that 1 in 7 Texans, or more than 4 million Texans, struggled with the threat of hunger each year.

“Hunger has more than doubled in Texas as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and H-E-B’s generous gift of up to 20 million meals will help food banks across the state feed an unprecedented number of community members in need.” said Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole, “We are so grateful for the Summer of Giving partnership with H-E-B and their continued commitment to help close the hunger gap in Texas.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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