Q: We are growing increasingly concerned with the impact the recent surge of coronavirus cases is having on our attendance and resulting state funding. Are we able to restrict student access to in-person instruction if a campus can no longer be adequately staffed due to a COVID-19 outbreak without impacting our funding?
A: Yes. A school district may restrict in-person instruction and instead offer remote instruction with no impact on state funding if certain conditions are met. Such a restriction must be triggered by the inability to sufficiently staff due to a confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, be limited to the impacted campus only and can last no longer than 14 calendar days. In addition, the district must submit documentation to TEA notifying the agency of its request to restrict in-person instruction.
Generally speaking, students generate half- or full-day funding (based on their schedules) when schools are open and operating normally and students are physically present and accounted for at a locally selected time. See Tex. Educ. Code § 48.008. This is true even for those students electing a virtual instruction model and attendance is documented via an approved engagement method. See https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/covid/SY-2020-21-Attendance-and-Enrollment.pdf. As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to surge throughout this holiday season, however, several school districts like the one in the above scenario are experiencing staffing issues making in-person classroom instruction – even under the alternative method described above – no longer feasible. As previously written, the TEA guideline document allowed for closure of no more than 5 days before impacting a school district’s funding. At the urging of superintendents state-wide, the TEA published updated guidance on November 19, 2020 addressing this issue head on and granting a reprieve of sorts.
The Attendance and Enrollment FAQ document linked above provides that local educational agencies may restrict student access to on-campus instruction and instead provide hybrid or fully remote instruction if a campus cannot be sufficiently staffed due to a confirmed COVID-19 outbreak. Such restrictions, however, must be no longer than 14 calendar days and must be limited to the impacted campus for the instructional days to count toward the 75,600 operational minutes requirement generating funding. In addition, a school district must request to restrict student access to on-campus instruction by completing and submitting relevant documentation to TEA. A copy of the request form may be accessed and downloaded from TEA’s website at: https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/covid/request_to_restrict_oncampus_due_to_confirmed_instructional_staff_cases_of_covid19.pdf and will be approved upon receipt. Id.
Please contact your local school attorney if you seek additional information or have specific questions regarding enrollment, attendance, and funding issues.