As school districts get ready to kick off the new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendents from 10 Harris County districts say the health department's recommendations on reopening are too restrictive.
Among the school districts are big ones like Cy-Fair ISD, Humble ISD and Katy ISD.
"We believe that the metrics outlined in the plan you have provided are not attainable to resume in-person instruction in the foreseeable future," a letter sent to the health department read.
Last week, Harris County leaders and health experts unveiled what they called the "Roadmap to Reopen Schools," which said districts should not allow in-person learning until the county is out of the red level alert - which indicates uncontrolled spread of the virus.
"We cannot pretend that children don't spread the illness," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said, cautioning that the positivity rate is "far worse than when schools were shuttered in April."
When conditions improve, the roadmap suggests districts can welcome back in-person learners at reduced capacity.
The superintendents wrote in their letter that this basically amounts to an indefinite closure, which they say they can't support.
"Schools have been closed for in-person instruction since March 2020 and continued indefinite closure as outlined in the Roadmap to Reopening Schools Plan will be harmful to children," the letter read.
They say they are following guidelines from the Texas Education Agency and the CDC.
Houston ISD is not among the school districts. The other districts in the letter include Clear Creek, Deer Park, Huffman, Humble, Klein, Pasadena, Spring Branch and Tomball.
State leaders said Harris County and its public health department do not have the power to prevent school districts from resuming in-person instruction.
Harris County Public Health released the following statement Tuesday evening:
Harris County Public Health (HCPH) has made it abundantly clear that current indicators are not safe to resume in-person school activities in Harris County due to COVID-19. HCPH has taken into consideration a variety of factors in making this decision including the importance of in-person activities for students. In-person activities for schools are indeed valuable for the social fabric of children and communities. Data and evidence remain the cornerstone of decision making.
Since issuing the Harris County School Reopening Roadmap, HCPH has received a joint letter from several Harris County ISDs. In its guidance, HCPH has recommended that in-person activities be phased-in until community spread of COVID-19 declines. To monitor and inform phased-in approaches for in-person activities, HCPH has recommended a set of benchmarks and metrics to monitor for public health trends. These indicators do not mean that in-person activities for schools will be closed indefinitely until a vaccine is available and the pandemic is over. Rather it is up to all of us to assure that our schools can go back to in-person learning sooner than later.
These recommendations are not taken lightly but are offered with the full Harris County community in mind. Ultimately, school leaders and administrators are responsible for using these metrics and making the decisions to resume in-person activities in a way that keeps schools, students, faculty and staff safe. HCPH remains committed to working with its partners in helping Harris County move forward with its goal of reopening schools safely, responsibly and sustainably.