HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas (KVEO) —A new order from the Hidalgo County Health Authority recommends pushing back on-campus instruction, but requirements by the Texas Education Agency render it unenforceable.
“When you have among the highest death rates in the country, when we have over 4% of our population who test positive die, then we’re going to place a lot of people at risk,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County health authority.
For many districts in the Rio Grande Valley, the four-week period of virtual learning granted by the TEA is coming to a close.
However, as the RGV remains a COVID-19 hotspot in Texas and was excluded from the governor’s recent orders allowing parts of the state to increase their capacity for certain industries, the TEA is allowing schools to extend their transition to in-person learning by an additional four weeks with an exception.
A limited number of students must return to campus instruction.
“We’re all concerned with the reopening of schools because we know density is a contributor to spreading the disease,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez.
While new county health orders recommend delaying campus instruction to October 25, the Texas Attorney General requires any rule by a medical authority to be related to a specific event in order to be imposed.
Thus, school districts are partially reopening in the upcoming weeks and allowing parents the decision to opt-in or continue virtual learning.
“We have to remember this virus doesn’t really care why people are together,” said Dr. Melendez. “Whether you’re at church, whether at a football game, athletic game, protesting, it doesn’t matter.”
“The way this virus survives is by people coming together and that’s exactly what school does.”
While the COVID-19 fatality rate in the county is decreasing, Dr. Melendez predicts the return to school will again set the RGV back.
“I expect to have a spike,” he said. “How high? We’ll wait and see.”
Schools will be required to report student infections, and if there is a significant spike, as Dr. Melendez predicts, schools would have to abide by the county’s health order.
“If we do see there is some problems associated with getting our students back to school and the infection rate gets high, then I believe the order our medical director will impose will be legal and will be followed and will be enforceable,” said Cortez.
For parents choosing to have their child return to campus, Dr. Melendez urges they work closely with the district to understand exactly how they plan to keep them safe.
Among the districts requesting the TEA waiver are Donna, Weslaco and Mission.