Abbott: Districts Have Options To Fund Remote Learning

As districts prepare for school to begin in the fall amid shifting guidance and state and local officials continue to monitor the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of information to keep track of. Here’s what you need to know today:

  • Abbott: School districts have options to keep funding after eight weeks of remote learning;
  • Dallas County reports lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since mid-June;
  • HPISD parents can take our survey about the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
Abbott: School Districts Have Options To Keep Funding After Eight Weeks Of Remote Learning
Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott discussed options school districts have to maintain funding if they choose to utilize virtual learning beyond eight weeks during an interview with NBC 5

The Texas Education Agency announced last week that districts can offer remote-only instruction as part of an eight-week back-to-school transition period, could close campuses for in-person learning for up to five days beyond that if a building has a confirmed COVID-19 case, and beyond that five-day exception if a building is closed ‘as part of a legally-authorized closure order’ without risking funding. The TEA’s new guidance follows new, nonbinding guidance from Attorney General Ken Paxton saying that local health authorities can’t issue ‘sweeping orders closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future COVID-19 infections.’

“School districts have the autonomy to decide exactly when they open. They can open the school year in August, they can open the school year in September, or even later than that if they so choose. Then, second, school districts have the authority to decide how they are going to open. They can open either in-classroom setting, or through remote learning, or through a combination of the two,” Abbott told NBC 5 before outlining the TEA’s latest guidance. “There are so many different permutations of exactly what can happen. It could mean that schools could open up for in classroom education beginning in just a few weeks, or it could mean that that in-classroom education won’t begin until way after November, and the fact of the matter is no one knows what the status of COVID-19 is going to be three or four months from now…You have seen in Dallas County the trend lines are going all in the right direction.”

When NBC 5 reporter Julie Fine pointed out that Texas surpassed New York in terms of COVID-19 cases, Abbott reiterated the importance of following public health guidelines. 

“COVID-19 has not ended, it has not gone away, it has not magically disappeared, it still exists,” Abbott told the station. “What we have found is we have found the ways that we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the state of Texas and that is in the aftermath of my closure of bars, in the aftermath of my requirement that people wear face masks–what we have seen is a decrease in the spread of COVID-19, a decrease in hospitalizations, and improvement of the status of COVID-19 in the state of Texas. All we need to do until such time as we have therapeutic drugs that will begin to be able to treat people for COVID-19 is people need to continue these safe practices.”

Dallas County Reports Lowest Number of New COVID-19 Cases Since Mid-June

Dallas County Monday reported the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since about June 16 at 382, bringing the total confirmed case count in the county to 51,490, as well as three additional deaths.

The additional deaths reported Monday include a Mesquite woman in her 60s who had underlying health conditions, and an Irving man in his 80s who also had underlying conditions. Additionally, a man in his 70s who lived in a Dallas long-term care facility was among the additional deaths reported. Of the total confirmed deaths reported to date, about 28% have been associated with long-term care facilities. Diabetes has been an underlying high-risk health condition reported in about a third of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

A total of 1,534 probable cases have been reported to date in Dallas County residents, including two probable deaths from COVID-19.

More than 2,050 children under 18 years of age have been diagnosed with confirmed COVID-19 since July 1. During this timeframe, 52 children have been hospitalized for COVID-19. 

“Today’s number is the lowest we’ve seen since June 16 and growing evidence that masking, maintaining a six foot distance and avoiding unnecessary trips outside the home for anything but work or exercise is working. We need to continue our community resolve to get the coronavirus under control so that less people get sick, more businesses stay open and our kids can get back to school sooner rather than later,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

Jenkins also addressed testing.

“We’ve seen a decrease in visits to our testing sites over the last week and there is capacity at our sites as well as low wait times and relatively fast turnaround times. Most people are now getting their test back in two to three days. If you need testing and are a resident of Dallas County, Ellis Davis Field House, 9191 S. Polk St. near IH-20 and IH-35E, now has a capacity of 1,000 tests per day and a fast turnaround time. Additionally, there are low wait times and fast turnaround times at Mountain View College, where North Texans from outside Dallas County can also be tested, and Eastfield College (Dallas County residents only). We have several walk up sites with low wait times and quick turnaround times at Red Bird Mall/Westmoreland Park, Sam Tasby Middle School and the Salvation Army/Pleasant Grove Corps Community Center,” he said.

The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 remains high, with about 19% of symptomatic patients presenting to area hospitals testing positive in week 30. 

Of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment, more than 80% have been critical infrastructure workers, with a broad range of affected occupational sectors, including healthcare, transportation, food and agriculture, public works, finance, communications, clergy, first responders, and other essential functions.

Of all confirmed cases requiring hospitalization to date, more than two-thirds have been under 65 years of age. 

Twenty-five hospitals Sunday reported ventilator and bed capacity numbers to Mayor Eric Johnson’s office. Of 5,969 total beds, 66% were occupied, of 958 total ICU beds, 70% were occupied, and, of 1,003 total ventilators, 39% were in use.

The latest data from UT Southwestern Medical Center projects COVID-19 hospitalizations in Dallas County could decrease to between 500 and 800 concurrent hospitalized cases by August 14, and roughly 700 new COVID-19 infections per day are expected by August 14.

“Dallas County hospitalizations are expected to slowly decrease over the next two weeks if trends hold,” UT Southwestern projected. “Mobility data show that activity has increased again over the last 2-3 weeks, so we are watching carefully for any potential impact.”

Statewide, as of Aug. 2, 442,014 cases were reported from 3,834,586 tests in 250 counties, as well as 7,016 fatalities. Additionally 8,819 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals across the state as of Aug. 3.

HPISD Parents Can Take Our Survey About the 2020-2021 School Year

As school districts continue to pivot their plans for the 2020-2021 school year, we want to capture a snapshot of how Highland Park ISD parents are navigating the decision-making process to decide whether remote learning or in-person instruction is right for their families. Parents can take the survey here.

The HPISD board of trustees is meeting this morning and a discussion about fall re-opening is on the agenda.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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