With new quarantine and isolation guidance issued by the CDC in recent weeks, Texas schools districts have been waiting to hear from the TEA on updated policies. On Friday, the TEA released a new document with new protocols for COVID cases. Basically, requirements for students with COVID remain as they were with 10 days of quarantine following onset of symptoms, while quarantine protocols for staff have changed.
First, they start with how they were given the authority to issue guidance via Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-38.
EO GA-38 provides TEA with the legal authority to publish requirements for the operation of public school systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance issued January 7, 2022 takes effect immediately, replacing all prior guidance.
However, they also state a disclaimer of sorts: “TEA recommends that public school systems consult with their local public health authorities and local legal counsel before making final decisions regarding the implementation of this guidance.
This guidance is subject to change as new information becomes available.”
TEA Guidance Regarding Masks References GA-38
Per GA-38, school systems are prohibited from requiring students or staff to wear a mask. However, we should note there have been numerous legal battles about whether a school district can require masks. Duncanville ISD currently has a mask mandate in place through at least spring break in response to the current surge being driven by Omicron. Lancaster ISD also has a mask mandate currently in effect.
TEA does say school districts must allow individuals to wear a mask if they choose to do so.
Guidance For Students Who Have COVID-19
TEA references Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Rule (25 Tex. Admin. Code § 97.7) which requires schools to exclude students from attending school in person while actively sick with COVID-19, suspected of being actively sick with COVID-19, or if they received a positive test result for COVID-19, and must immediately notify parents if this is determined while on campus.
Parents must ensure they do not send a child to school on campus if the child has COVID-19 symptoms or is test-confirmed with COVID-19, until the conditions for re-entry are met.
See the DSHS rule for more details, including the conditions for ending the exclusion period and returning to school.
Students Who Are Close Contacts
As a reference, close contact determinations are generally based on guidance outlined by the CDC, which notes that individuals who are fully vaccinated may not need to follow the stay-at home period.
As noted above, public health authorities will be notified of all positive cases in schools. While school systems are not required to conduct COVID-19 case investigations, local public health entities have authority to investigate cases and are currently engaged in cooperative efforts on that front. Participation by individuals in these investigations remains voluntary. If school systems are made aware that a student is a close contact, the school system must notify the student’s parents.
When it comes to students that may have had close contact at home, TEA gives schools the ability to decide if they want to require those students to stay at home during the below stay-at-home period based on whether their area is one with high or rising COVID case rates.
This applies specifically to students who are close contacts because an individual who lives in the same household is COVID-19 positive.
Independent of whether a school system chooses to implement the above requirement, parents of students who are determined to be close contacts of an individual with COVID-19 may opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period.
In cases when it is permitted, parents who opt to send their children to school in the two weeks following exposure are encouraged to closely monitor their children for symptoms.
Updates Based on New CDC Guidance
For individuals who are determined to be close contacts, a 14-day stay-at-home period was
previously advised by the CDC based on the incubation period of the virus. The CDC has since updated its guidance, and the stay-at-home period can end for students experiencing no symptoms on Day 10 after close contact exposure, if no subsequent COVID-19 testing is
Alternately, students can end the stay-at-home period if they receive a negative result from a PCR acute infection test after the close contact exposure ends.
During the stay-at-home period, the school system may deliver remote instruction consistent with the practice of remote conferencing outlined in the proposed Student Attendance Accounting Handbook (SAAH) rules.
Staff With COVID-19 or Who Are Close Contacts
As with students, school districts must exclude staff from attending school in person who are actively sick with COVID-19, suspected of being actively sick with COVID-19, or who
have received a positive test result for COVID-19.
Based on recent updates from the CDC, staff may return when:
• If symptomatic, at least 5 days have passed since symptom onset, and fever free*, and
other symptoms have improved.
• For those with no symptoms, at least 5 days after the day they tested positive.
*Fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever suppressing medications. Fever is a
temperature of 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius) or higher.
Staff who meet the close contact threshold with a COVID-19 positive individual and are in one of the following groups, do not need to stay at home.
- Ages 18 or older and have received all recommended vaccine doses, including boosters
and additional primary shots for some immunocompromised people.
- Have had a COVID-19 positive confirmed case within the last 90 days and has fully recovered.
For staff who meet the close contact threshold with a COVID-19 positive individual who are not in one of the above groups, it is recommended that the school system require that staff remain off campus during the stay-at-home period, but this is a local employment policy decision. If staff continue to work on campus, rapid testing must be performed periodically for 5 days post-exposure, with testing on the 5th day recommended.
Editor’s Note: CDC Guidance states, at the end of five days, if you have no symptoms, you can return to normal activities but must wear a well fitting mask everywhere, including in your home around others, for at least five more days.
However, for those still experiencing symptoms after isolating for five days, they should stay home until feeling better and then start five days of wearing a mask at all times.
In addition the CDC’s new K-12 guidance also recommends, screening testing for all teachers and staff at least once per week regardless of vaccination status.
Of course CDC guidance, updated on January 6, 2022, also recommends universal indoor masking by all* students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.