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First 4 weeks of school can be online-only, TEA says in new guidance

The Texas Education Agency released updated school reopening guidance Friday. The changes give the "needed flexibility" to communities, the agency said.

Updated with reaction from a local district.

Schools can delay in-person schooling for the first four weeks of the fall semester, according to updated guidance released Friday by the Texas Education Agency. 

The agency first released its guidance on school reopening July 7. As part of those guidelines, students over 10 years old are required to wear face masks and parents can switch their children to online learning at any point in the year. 

Under its latest recommendations, the agency says schools can delay in-person learning for up to four weeks after the beginning of the semester. School boards can vote to delay in-person classes for an additional four weeks after that if needed.

"In response to the varying public health realities of each Texas community, these changes give the needed flexibility for schools," TEA officials said in a written statement. 

Students must attend 90% of a course to receive credit and advance to the next year, but for the 2020-21 school year, virtual coursework counts toward that attendance. 

Though parents can request their children return to on-campus learning at any point, schools can opt to delay that return until the end of a grading period.

The superintendent for Garland ISD said this change gives districts more local control over the best way to restart school.

“It takes a board vote so it’s not something that we can just turn and flip the switch and add the eight weeks, but it gives every district the ability to modify whatever plan that they have to fit the needs of their community," said Superintendent Ricardo Lopez.

Dallas County schools order 

The announcement Friday follows a Dallas County health order put in place Thursday which prohibits in-school learning until Sept. 8 for all private and public schools. 

The order was issued by the Dallas County director of public health. 

RELATED: Dallas County order says all districts must be online-only through Sept. 7

Several North Texas school districts have moved to delay the start of the school year entirely or push back in-person learning. 

The latest TEA guidance says that exceptions must be made for students who don't have access to the internet or computers that would enable to participate in online learning. 

Those students "will still be entitled to on-campus instruction every day during this transition period," according to the TEA. 

One week before in-person classes resume, all school districts are required to publicly release a plan for slowing the spread of the coronavirus in schools.

School health guidelines

Under the TEA guidance, teachers and staff must "self-screen" for symptoms of COVID-19. Any staff who has symptoms or has tested positive for the coronavirus must remain off campus until symptoms have passed and they have been 72 hours without a fever. 

"Parents must ensure" their children do not go on campus if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have come in contact with someone confirmed to have the coronavirus. 

The guidance suggests schools have handwashing stations and/or hand sanitizers at all entrances and in every classroom as possible. 

Everyone on campus should regularly wash their hands and cover all coughs and sneezes. And masks should be worn inside for all school activities except when they are exercising. 

The TEA also encourages desks be placed 6 feet apart and students should be spread out in classrooms and other schoolrooms as much as possible. 

And, schools "should consider" canceling assemblies or other large group activities.  

Full TEA guidance

Tiffany Liou contributed to this report.

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