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Texas Education Commissioner Says Public Schools Will Reopen In The Fall

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Mike Morath, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, is predicting that Texas schools will be safe for students to return to in the fall, this despite the recent spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the state.

Parents who aren't comfortable sending their kids back to school will be allowed to keep them home under Education Commissioner's return-to-campus plan, which will be updated next week with more guidance for school districts on how it will work. The state will not require students and teachers to wear masks, but districts will be able to make their own rules on face coverings, an agency spokeswoman said.

"It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall," Morath said. "But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses."

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered schools closed March 19, sending more than 5 million students into distance-learning programs to finish the spring semester and canceling standardized testing. Abbott allowed districts to hold in-person summer school courses with strict social distancing guidelines, but only a few have chosen to do so.

Since Memorial Day, Texas has set record highs in daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations from the disease caused by the coronavirus. The trend continued Thursday, when it reported a 2,947 hospitalizations — a new high for the 11th time in 12 days — and 3,516 new cases, which was a record for the third straight day.

Thursday's 43 reported fatalities was the second-highest day in a month.

The actual number of people who have contracted the virus is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected and not feel sick.

Despite the soaring figures, Abbott has been aggressive about re-opening of the state's economy and suggested this week that he didn't intend to slow down.

The Texas State Teachers Association cautioned against being too quick to reopen schools and said that any moves must consider the safety of teachers and staff. The TSTA wants daily symptom testing and a mask available for "everyone entering a school building."

"We can't be in too big a hurry to reopen schools. Despite what some political leaders would have us believe, we still are in the middle of a pandemic that is getting worse," said TSTA spokesman Clay Robison. "We are not confident the governor and TEA have adequately prepared for this. But they don't have to be in school buildings. Teachers and students do."

Meantime, Travis County Sam Biscoe issued an executive order requiring businesses to develop health and safety plans by Tuesday that include at least the requirement that employees and visitors wear face coverings. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 per violation. Those participating in any outdoor gathering of 500 persons or more also will be required to cover their faces, except in places of worship and other gatherings Abbott has exempted.

The order comes a day after Austin Mayor Steve Adler, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued similar health and safety orders. Abbott responded Wednesday by saying local governments may require businesses to mandate customers and workers to wear face masks.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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