Every August, the conversations in our house always seem to focus on the upcoming school year. Our daughters begin putting the pieces together for their vision of the next chapter in their educational journey. These are the times that Beth and I cherish – watching the wonders of their world emerge through the anticipation of unfolding the next steps in their future.
As the fall school year approaches, there is a sharp reminder that this one is very different. Texas families across our state are seeking to understand what the 2020-2021 school year will bring during the COVID-19 crisis. This year’s planning is compounded by the unknowns of a pandemic combined with the frustration of five months without our kids filling the halls of what was a bustling scene of activity. Parents grapple with difficult decisions on the type of learning environment they are committing to, and our children just crave a return to the normalcy of the life that was suddenly abandoned with the closing of their schools.
In House District 63, I have been grateful for the continued dialogue with area school officials and feedback from teachers, parents, and students along with non-profits serving families while schools closed. Even before the pandemic challenge, education has never been expected to provide a one size fits all solution. Now more than ever, our needs and concerns are being contrasted against the background of what the school year entails. Despite differing feedback, one thing is consistently clear across every district and socio-economic background, and that is there is no greater investment nor priority than that of the education of our children. The value of their future is priceless and must always be protected.
Until now, there hasn’t been a time in recent history that the intertwining of our societal fabric revealed just how much one area is dependent on another. The education of our children is certainly at the core of it all. The investment we make today, pandemic or not, will ultimately determine on Texas’ ability to strengthen and build a future of prosperity for generations to come.
The Texas Education Agency has provided additional guidelines for the opening of schools this fall to establish a smoother transition for students and teachers. Texas public schools can implement a start-delay of four weeks for on-campus instruction utilizing virtual classrooms and limiting in-person instruction.
Local ISDs will continue to set their school calendars and establish safety protocols to resume on-campus instruction. Texas schools will also be funded at the same rate for both on-campus and virtual attendance. Furthermore, special education students and those without internet connectivity are provided with provisions to access on-campus learning. The specific details of the TEA plan are listed on the website, www.tea.texas.gov.
As we look at the logistical aspects of getting students safely back on campus, I feel it is absolutely critical that we also take action to support students, teachers, and our school districts in the aftermath of this shutdown. More and more, I am hearing questions related to how STAAR testing will be administered and how accountability metrics will be assessed. The State needs to be sensible and provide predictability to students, parents, and teachers going into the next school year.
I have urged the Texas Education Agency to take the necessary steps to suspend these state mandates for the 2020-2021 school year and allow for educators to instead focus exclusively on teaching our children. These are trying times and forcing testing mandates is clearly not in the best interest of our education system and most importantly, our children and teachers who have already made incredible adjustments in learning. In establishing what a return to campus looks like, we also should not prevent local ISDs from working to identify their own benchmarks to evaluate student achievement. Now more than ever, we must balance accountability with reason as the future of our great state is dependent upon the investment we make today in our youth.
In addition to suspending the STAAR, we must also look to suspend the A-F school rating system and use the same level of reason for our schools who are constantly adjusting to minimize education gaps. I am grateful that my Denton County House colleagues, including Dr. Lynn Stucky, joined together with Denton County area superintendents to reiterate our combined support for these adjustments.
Just recently, the Governor Greg Abbott announced a positive step in this direction with the waiver of the grade promotion requirement for students in grades 5 and 8. The traditional A-F rating system still remains in place, but certain adjustments will be made due to COVID-19.
Outside of the guidelines and structural changes for the school year, I want to also thank our amazing Texas teachers and school leaders for their tremendous efforts to help keep students learning and also working tirelessly to serve thousands of meals to ensure children would not go hungry as schools closed.
While this has been one of the most challenging times in recent history, I am continuously encouraged by the countless ways Texans put aside their differences to help one another, especially when it comes to our most precious citizens – our children.
It is an honor to serve you in the Texas House, and I hope you will share your feedback on this issue or any other state matter on your mind. Please never hesitate to reach out at 972.724.8477, [email protected], or follow me on Facebook/Twitter @tparker63. And please don’t forget that Texas’ Sales Tax Holiday will take place again this year from August 7–9. It is a great opportunity to save money and help our local retailers!