In late September, the first case of the Ebola virus diagnosed in the United States was confirmed in Dallas. The Dallas Independent School District was the first to deal with issues related to potential exposure to students and/or staff. I have remained in contact with DISD Superintendent Mike Miles to learn the issues the district faced and how TEA could assist.
Since that time, additional school districts across our state have been faced with potential exposure to students and/or staff. As these instances have occurred, I have personally contacted superintendents to get a better sense of the community concerns and how each district is working to address them.
Superintendents across Texas have contacted TEA staff and me directly to seek guidance on specific questions related to this health and safety issue. At the same time, our Education Service Centers have relayed questions and concerns expressed to them related to issues specific to the various regions.
I am aware there are a multitude of questions specific to each community and district. However, today I hope to provide some guidance on the three most common issues that have been brought to my attention:
The Department of State Health Services has released a statement (attached) indicating that no public health reason exists at this time to close schools, cancel classes or cancel extracurricular activities. With this in mind, the decision to close a specific campus within your district due to potential exposure to the Ebola virus remains a local decision. Each superintendent is in the best position to take into account the health information provided to you regarding potential risks, while also addressing the level of concern within your community. In my discussions with superintendents, it is a decision that has been made after careful consideration of multiple factors. [Please note that districts must still apply for a Missed Instructional Day waiver for each campus that is closed.]
Established policies regarding attendance waivers for health and/or safety reasons remain in effect. Districts seeking such a waiver should specifically note the reason for the waiver request. Although the current threshold to secure an attendance waiver has not been changed, I have instructed TEA staff to consider the current situation in our state and work with school districts during this time.
Instruction Options for Quarantined Students
Almost all of our education service centers provide a variety of potential options to address the educational needs of students who are being monitored for potential Ebola exposure and cannot attend class during the isolation period. I have attached a copy of those potential options identified by our ESCs. During this time, TEA will expedite any request from a district for a waiver to provide remote instruction by remote conferencing to students who are staying home at the direction of a public health official due to monitoring of the Ebola virus. For additional remote conferencing waiver information, see Sections 12.3.1 and 12.3.2 of the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook. All other requests relating to extended student absences as a result of health and/or safety concerns will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
As a member of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, I understand there are still questions specific to each community and school district. I am working with state health officials on answers to those questions related to student health monitoring, communication to parents and the community, as well as campus-level precautions once potential exposure has been identified. I will address these types of issues in additional updates.
I thank each of you for working to keep me, TEA staff, and our ESCs advised during this time. More importantly, thank you for keeping your community informed on your precautions and decisions. The many issues you have already identified are important components to assuring our state is prepared and remains prepared in the future.
Commissioner of Education