In the midst of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of Pastors for Texas Children—including several Texas Baptist ministers—have asked the Texas Education Agency to offer schools clear health and safety guidelines.
The ministers also urged TEA to grant local districts flexibility in how they provide instruction, maintain funding for public education and seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that would allow Texas to cancel its statewide standardized test next year.
“With the number of COVID-19 illnesses reaching record-breaking numbers daily, and the rise in the numbers of young children with coronavirus, we are deeply troubled about the possibility of harm coming to the children of our Texas communities,” Pastors for Texas leaders wrote in a July 14 letter to Mike Morath, commissioner of education at TEA.
Joining Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, and Co-director Charles Luke in signing the letter were several other ministers from around the state. Texas Baptists who endorsed the letter included Phil Christopher, pastor of First Baptist Church in Abilene; John Ogletree, pastor of First Metropolitan Baptist Church in Houston; Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston; and Garrett Vickrey, pastor of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio.
The letter to Morath presented four specific requests:
- Provide clear guidelines for public health and student safety. “While we realize adjusting to this pandemic is difficult and represents something of a ‘moving target,’ we believe the lack of clear, early guidelines and requirements from state-level officials has led to a significant increase in the number of coronavirus cases,” the letter stated. “Without clear direction from TEA, the number of increasing cases will likely include more and more children as the school year progresses.”
- Provide instructional flexibility for local school districts. “TEA should not require school districts to have a full week of on-campus instruction to receive funding, but should allow districts to choose which instructional model most effectively provides for learning while ensuring the safety and welfare of students, staff, and families. Additional time for remote learning options should be granted without financial penalty, if necessary,” the letter stated.
- Maintain appropriate funding for schools. “Fully fund schools as they were last school year with appropriate adjustments in average daily attendance calculations to allow for shut-downs and shifts in instructional methods,” the ministers requested. “Funding should not be withheld from schools and communities that are in severe need due to future outbreaks in this pandemic.”
- Cancel the STAAR test for the 2020-21 school year. “Adding a high-stakes, high-pressure standardized test on top of an unprecedented pandemic will not serve our Texas children, parents and educators well,” the letter stated. “We believe such a requirement to be unfair to our communities and insensitive to the difficulties they are facing.” Pastors for Texas Children asked TEA to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that will exempt Texas schools from testing requirements for the upcoming school year.
Texas Health and Human Services reported 275,058 cases of COVID-19 in the state as of July 14, with more than 3,300 fatalities. Individuals age 19 and younger account for about 1,800 of the confirmed cases in the state, but the numbers of children and teenagers with the virus continue to increase.