Local school districts respond to Attorney General’s statement

UISD and LISD respond to Ken Paxton's letter
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 9:38 AM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) -Our local school districts are speaking out after the Texas Attorney General released a statement saying that local health officials do not have the authority to shut down schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Ken Paxton said that such a decision rests solely with school officials.

Paxton issued his “legal guidance” amid a fierce debate in Texas among local governments, health officials, parents, and teachers as to how and when to open school.

We reached out to both local school districts on the matter.

UISD Superintendent Bobby Santos says they were in the process of working on a possible eight-week schedule of online instruction when they received the letter.

Santos says they are trying to find a way to move forward despite some repeated changes.

Santos says, "In our case, I want our attorneys to interpret what else is on the email, or letter from The Attorney General. As to what we can or can't do, I mean every day it seems the commissioner, the different government agencies are constantly changing these rules on us. And for us, we want to provide the best we can, the best situation for our students, but at the same time, it's a safety issue. We need to look out for our students and staff. So, we don't know yet until our attorneys interpret what it is we can or can't do."

Meanwhile, LISD Superintendent Dr. Sylvia Rios responded to Paxton’s latest decision.

In a statement she says, “Laredo ISD’s recent actions and decisions regarding our instructional plan for the 2020-21 school year are the results of much discussion and careful study of available research and data. We will continue consulting with health authorities and TEA to create a robust and safe learning environment for our children, staff, and community. We are also confident that by partnering with the State of Texas and our local health authority, our school district will be able to move forward with plans to start the new school year on August 24th providing our children with the quality education that they truly deserve amidst the challenges posed by the threat of a world pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath released a statement saying, “As the Texas Attorney General’s guidance letter of July 28th, 2020 indicated: ‘local health authorities’ may not issue blanket orders closing all schools in their jurisdiction’ The guidance letter further provides the health authority orders may not conflict with executive orders of the governor, they must apply control measures required by statute. As a state agency, we will follow the attorney general’s guidance. Consequently, a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction for an indefinite period of time. However, another valid funding exception may apply such as a start of the year transition period. For example. School systems may begin the year virtually under TEA funding waivers for up to four weeks and subject to a vote of the local school board can extend that for an additional four weeks. TEA will also continue to adjust its waivers as the situation warrants.

Morath goes on to say that protecting the health of students and teachers remains the agency’s top priority.

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