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TEA says it will ensure remote instruction is available to all; masks to be required at schools

Back in June, the Texas Education Agency said it would not require masks or screenings at schools. Now, its guidelines have changed.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has announced updated guidelines for students to return to school in the fall, whether they return to campuses or choose to learn remotely.

"Both as commissioner and as a public school parent, my number one priority is the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff," TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said. "That is why the guidance laid out today [July 7] will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis."

Morath said that Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and other Texas legislative leaders are committed to fully funding in-class and remote instruction for every child in the 2020-21 school year.

RELATED: Austin ISD to resume school Aug. 18 with virtual, in-person learning options

Here's a breakdown of the new guidance from the TEA:

Parents can choose whether to send their kids to school on-campus or remotely.

The TEA said that daily on-campus learning will be available to all parents who want their kids to learn in school each day. All parents will also have the option to choose remote learning for their kids, initially or at any point as the year progresses. 

Parents who choose remote instruction may be asked to commit to that option for a full grading period – six or nine weeks – but will not have to make that commitment more than two weeks in advance.

Masks will be required while in school buildings across Texas.

Previously, the TEA said, while it would be distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks to school districts, it was up to the districts to distribute that equipment. Now, the agency says some health procedures are mandated for every school in the state.

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Texas Education Agency releases new guidelines for attendance, remote learning, personal protective equipment

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For example, all students, teachers, staff and visitors to any campus must be screened before being allowed on campus. Masks will also be required while in school buildings, assuming Gov. Abbott's order mandating mask-wearing is still in place. Certain exceptions may be made, as noted in the order. Schools will also be required to follow any forthcoming orders from the governor.

Other additional health procedures are recommended for every school that can reasonably implement them. Districts also have the option to establish a phased-in return to on-campus instruction for the first three weeks of the school year, according to the TEA.

The TEA is providing PPE and other resources to districts.

In addition to the PPE supplies that will be provided to schools, the TEA will also provide free online, TEKS-aligned learning tools to deliver remote instruction and teacher training provided at no cost to school systems. There will also be statewide efforts to help bridge the digital divide for students learning at home.

For more information on how the TEA is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here. You can find the TEA's comprehensive public health guidance here.

The TEA's Tuesday announcement came on the same day that President Donald Trump said he would "putting a lot of pressure" on governors to get schools to open up this fall.

WATCH: Austin education leaders preparing for new kind of school year

The Texas Pediatric Society released the following statement regarding the TEA's new guidelines: 

"The Texas Pediatric Society, the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, appreciates the commitment demonstrated by the TEA, in collaboration with Gov. Abbott's Coronavirus Medical Advisory Team, to ensure in-person instruction is available to every child, while maintaining flexibility for parents to choose remote learning as an option. TPS will continue to review the TEA guidance and serve as a resource to the agency and the governor's office in keeping the health and wellbeing of Texas children a priority during this unprecedented pandemic."

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