Schools and the Coronavirus
As school officials are aware, cases of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) have been identified worldwide, with more new cases being identified in the United States. This has resulted in schools outside of Texas closing for cleaning after students tested positive for the coronavirus. Not surprisingly, Texas school districts have many questions about preventing (and potentially dealing with) the coronavirus. While school lawyers are not medical experts, below are some suggestions for districts looking for both short- and long-term prevention, as well as preparation measures to take now.
- Follow the guidance of the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/), as well as state and local public health departments.
- Ensure that sufficient hand soap, paper towels, tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol), disinfectant, and other cleaning wipes are on hand at your campuses and other district facilities. Don’t forget about buses!
- Establish a regular and thorough cleaning protocol for surfaces that are frequently touched.
- Make sure all classroom teachers, nurses, front office staff, janitorial staff, cafeteria staff, bus drivers and other appropriate personnel are trained on cleaning protocols.
- Encourage and allow for regular handwashing by staff and students throughout the school day.
- Be sure students and staff practice covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue (or sleeve) and then throw the tissue away.
- Encourage students, parents, and staff who are sick to stay home. Remember that any employee who can be objectively, factually shown to pose a direct threat to the health or safety or others can be required to have a medical exam before returning to work. Be cautious that such a decision is not based on speculation, fears, or assumptions.
- Be alert for, and takes steps to prevent, bullying, discrimination, harassment or stigma due to perceived race, national origin, illness, or recent travel.
- Identify private areas where sick students may need to be isolated until picked up from school. Ensure the cleaning protocol is implemented upon the student’s departure.
- Provide additional training to your school nursing staff if it is needed and available.
- With the assistance of school nursing staff and local public health officials, provide factual information to parents, students and staff regarding coronavirus prevention, and district measures related to the same. This can include a reminder about staying home if they are exhibiting symptoms, and about proper documentation for excused absences. Share this information in multiple ways (district website, social media, emails, or newsletters) and in languages that meet the needs of your community.
- Work collaboratively with community partners to ensure the same (and correct) information is shared. This might include having meetings with leaders from your local health department, municipality, county, and/or community college.
School closures can result from the outbreak of any communicable disease due to significant absences or expanded public health concerns. State health officials and the Superintendent have authority to order school closures. Items and actions to consider include:
- Review your district emergency operations plan and update it if needed.
- Anticipate the need for quick distribution of District communications with families and employees in the event of closures.
- Consider the cancellation of nonessential travel, including out-of-district competitions, as well as local and national field trips, per CDC and local public heath guidance, particularly where students could be exposed to COVID-19.
- Develop plans for mandatory services that will still need to be provided to special needs students.
- Consider options for distance learning or homebound instruction to allow for continuity in students’ education, especially where an ill student is entitled to such services.
- Identify essential personnel who must report to work during any closure.
- Prepare for adequate staffing by substitutes in the event of significant employee absenteeism.
- Plan for possible employee pay issues and review any contract and policy implications of extended employee absences and loss of instructional days.
- Maintain regular contact with state and local health officials.
- Plan for school re-openings in the event of an extended closure, including possible make-up days and school work.
- Anticipate the need for any purchases that may be required during a closure.
A number of agencies and organizations have issued guidance specific for school districts that may also be helpful. Some of these links offer posters about reducing the speaks of germs. These include:
This information is not intended to cover every contingency and circumstance, and guidance from health care authorities may change. For specific questions related to issues involving schools and coronavirus, contact your district’s legal counsel for assistance.
Contact Walsh Gallegos attorneys toll free at the numbers listed below:
Amarillo Office ̶ 888-622-6864
Austin Office – 800.252.3405
Houston Office – 888.565.6864
Irving Office – 800.231.4207
Rio Grande Valley Office – 866.770.6864
San Antonio Office – 800.232.9169
Albuquerque Office – 800.771.6864
This email update was prepared by Walsh Gallegos attorneys Joey Moore and Andrea Slater Gulley and is provided as a benefit of the Walsh Gallegos retainer program. The information in this email was created by Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle P. C. It is intended to be used for general information only and is not to be considered specific legal advice. If specific legal advice is sought, consult an attorney.