Gov. Greg Abbott
1100 Congress Ave, 2S.1
Austin, TX 78701
CC: Commissioner Mike Morath
Texas Education Agency
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas 78701
Dear Governor Abbott:
I am sure you are following the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases in El Paso County, which reported 358 new COVID-19 cases as of Sunday morning for a new total, nearly 26,000. So far, 534 El Pasoans have died from the disease, which has killed more than 210,000 people nationwide. The weekend numbers confirm a troubling upward trend in El Paso that threatens to grow worse if ignored.
In response to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, our city-county health authority has determined that Halloween trick-or-treating this year would not be permissible under the disease prevention guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. We are told that it is unsafe for our children to walk around outside in masks, yet our schools now face the prospect of being forced to call students back into classrooms or forfeit state funding.
I write to urge you to provide El Paso schools with the flexibility to continue remote-only instruction beyond the 8-week maximum if local school leaders and public health officials believe doing so is necessary to safeguard the health of students, teachers, and staff. The most recent TEA guidance suggests such flexibility may be extended to districts experiencing COVID-19 hospitalization rates over 15%. This potential exception notwithstanding, the agency guidance expressly states that state funding will not be provided to schools that offer remote-only instruction beyond the 8-week window.
The hospitalization rate in El Paso is currently 14%. Our schools should not be forced to choose between receiving necessary state funding or safeguarding public health over a single percentage point. Our schools already face difficult decisions regarding how best to balance educational needs and the need to prevent an uncontrollable outbreak. They must do so with the confidence and assurance that the state will faithfully meet its full funding commitment.
I appreciate your previous public statements that local schools should make the ultimate decisions regarding how instruction is delivered. In this spirit, I appeal to you to make this flexibility explicit and guarantee that state funding will not be withheld if remote-only instruction continues beyond the 8-week window.
Georgina C. Pérez