Allow Choice Between In-Person and Virtual Learning, TMA Tells School Leaders
By Joey Berlin

COVID-19_School_Reopening

Although face-to-face education is superior to virtual learning, the time isn’t right for school districts to “completely dismantle” remote schooling, the Texas Medical Association is telling state education leaders.

In a letter this week to the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators, TMA and the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS) expressed reservations about some Texas school districts discontinuing virtual learning and requiring in-person instruction.

During a time of accelerating spread of COVID-19, physicians have misgivings about policies in which “[f]amilies who wish to continue virtually are notified their child will be disenrolled unless the child meets medical risk criteria to continue with virtual learning,” TMA and TPS wrote.

The letter, from TMA President Diana Fite, MD, and TPS President Seth Kaplan, MD, notes that school-age children can transmit the virus to high-risk household or community members, even if the children don’t experience severe symptoms themselves.

It also notes that disenrollment jeopardizes access to resources such as meals, special education, and mental health services, and students are unlikely to quarantine when exposed, or isolate when infected, if virtual learning isn’t an option.

TMA and TPS make three requests in the letter:

  • All Texas schools preserve family choice between either in-person or virtual learning during the pandemic.
  • Medical exemption determinations – if a school requires them to continue virtual learning – should be left up to physicians, and should allow exemptions for not only high-risk students, but healthy students who live with high-risk people.
  • Districts that can’t avoid disenrolling virtual learners should “ensure all families can continue to access appropriate education while protecting their health.” That includes facilitating a disenrolled student’s transition to another learning option and paying associated costs and fees.

“We reiterate our belief that face-to-face instruction is superior for student educational experience. However, school policies must not put high-risk members of the community at unnecessary medical risk, disadvantage families advised by a physician that virtual learning remains in their best interest, or undermine public health efforts to slow the surge of COVID-19 already happening in our state,” Drs. Fite and Kaplan wrote. “Completely discontinuing virtual learning at this time fails all three tests.”

Last Updated On

November 12, 2020

Originally Published On

November 11, 2020

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Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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