This page was updated on Nov. 5, 2020.

  1. Have there been announcements and/or guidance on planning for reopening schools in the fall? (updated 8/20/20)
  2. What remote instruction options are available in 2020-21? (updated 11/5/20)
  3. Is synchronous instruction for PK-2 prohibited? (updated 8/13/20)
  4. What kind of accountability will be in place for synchronous and asynchronous methods of instruction? (updated 8/13/20)
  5. What instructional resources are there for remote and in-person learning for the 2020-21 school year? (updated 8/27/20)
  6. Are there any rules or guidelines on how to keep safe while we're packing and distributing education packets? (updated 8/27/20)
  7. How can I ensure privacy and security while I'm teaching remotely? (updated 8/27/20)
  8. If I work from home and use my own technology, do my communications with students, parents, and others create public records and make me a temporary custodian of public records subject to the Texas Public Information Act? (updated 8/27/20)
  9. What are the federal student privacy law considerations when providing virtual instruction? (updated 8/27/20)
  10. May non-students observe a virtual lesson? (updated 8/27/20)
  11. May a teacher record virtual classes and share the recording with students who are unable to attend? (updated 8/27/20)

The answers to questions we've compiled do not constitute legal advice. The situation is changing rapidly, and key factors will differ from school district to school district. This information will be updated as new details emerge, but we encourage TCTA members with specific questions to call our staff attorneys at 888-879-8282. Members with general inquiries can submit them through the Ask-a-Lawyer portal.

For more COVID-19 FAQs about 2020-21, click here

Instructional Models

Have there been announcements and/or guidance on planning for reopening schools in the fall? 

TEA released a framework to help districts plan for reopening schools next year, including the following components: reflection tool, survey resource, planning guidebook, phased reopening guide, sample district models, and sample school models.

The reflection tool helps districts develop their reopening strategy (e.g., school models, curriculum, schedule, teacher deployment, use of space, etc.). The tool offers a high-level checklist of action steps to set districts up for success as they conduct instructional and operational back-to-school planning this summer. It is organized into topics such as leadership, student performance, family engagement, technology, operations, academics, staffing, etc. which may be distributed to the appropriate functional group or role.

For each topic, the section is composed of two elements, a pre-planning checklist and a current state reflection. The checklist includes recommended immediate action steps and considerations to prepare for a successful launch of 2020-21. The current state reflection supports reflection on lessons learned from spring 2020 experience and implications for back-to-school planning for 2020-21.

The survey resource is intended to help districts develop their re-opening strategy (e.g., school models, curriculum, schedule, teacher deployment, use of space, etc.).

TEA suggests that school districts develop and conduct stakeholder surveys to collect feedback on both their experience with remote learning this spring, and their needs and concerns heading into the new school year. The survey resource includes questions for families/students, educators, and central office/administrative staff. TEA has also provided example surveys that can serve as an additional resource for school systems.

The phased reopening guide includes a set of considerations and guidance for districts to use as they consider how to phase-in reopening over the first 4-8 weeks of school.  According to TEA, school districts should continuously review their phasing approach based on changing local public health content; federal, state, and/or local guidance and policy; and family/student preferences.

One consideration included in the guide is determining which student populations may be prioritized for on-campus learning, including considering which students / sub-populations exhibited the largest performance gap pre-COVID (and/or post COVID where data is available)? And which students / sub-populations have struggled to engage in remote learning?

Another consideration is staffing. TEA’s examples include:

  • For weeks 1-4, consider designating teachers with strengths and prior experience working with special populations for on-campus instruction
    • Consider bringing additional teachers on-campus to increase social distancing measures
    • All other teachers instruct all other students remotely during this period
    • These teachers may have larger online classes than on-campus classes to allow for increased social distancing measures on-campus
  • During weeks 4-8, consider staffing teachers by modality and, for high school, department
    • Factor in teacher effectiveness in each modality and preference into staffing allocations
    • This increases flexibility and reduces complexity of teachers’ jobs by only instructing in one modality
    • Remote and on-campus teachers are paired, so that each pair has the same two cohorts of students on alternate weeks

The sample school models incorporate fully on-campus, fully remote, and hybrid models.

The fully on-campus models where students are on-campus 100 percent of the time include:

Considerations for the fully on-campus models:

  • Provides an option for families that request 5 day a week on-campus instruction.
  • Blended learning model seeks to personalize student education and experience.
  • Blended learning model could transition to remote, if circumstances require it.
  • Hybrid models allowed only if the district also provides daily on-campus instruction for all families that request it.

The fully remote school models where students are remote 100 percent of the time include:

Considerations for the fully remote models:

  • Provides an option for families that opt for completely remote learning.
  • Models designed for a purely remote experience.
  • Models intentionally mix synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences.
  • Remote models allowed only if the district also provides daily on-campus instruction for all families that request it.

The hybrid school models where students are in an intentionally planned mix of on-campus and remote settings include:

Considerations for the hybrid models:

  • Provides an option for families that prefer some on-campus and some remote instruction.
  • Hybrid school models allow for more social distancing within facilities.
  • Hybrid models allowed only if the district also provides daily on-campus instruction for all families that request it.

What remote instruction options are available in 2020-21?

In its Overview of Remote Instruction Guidance for SY 20-21, TEA created an attendance framework that sets out two new methods of remote instruction, synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction. Both instructional delivery formats must cover the required curriculum per TEC, §28.002.

Synchronous instruction is similar to instruction “on campus” and requires virtual two-way, real-time, live, instruction between teachers and students, through the computer or other electronic devices or over the phone.

Examples include live interactive classes with students & teachers participating real-time, teacher supported work time on video conference calls, scheduled and timed online tests.

According to TEA’s SY 20-21 Synchronous Attestation Summary (7/6/20), school districts must submit an attestation that they are prepared to offer synchronous instruction before funding will flow for synchronous attendance, and the district must post the attestation on its website. The attestation must include the following:

Student and Family Support

  • Districts ensure that all students, including students with disabilities and English learners, are able to receive instruction via synchronous methods and provide accommodations or resources to support when necessary.
  • Student IEPs are followed regardless of learning environment such that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • Families and students are provided with clear communications about expectations and support for accessing and participating in synchronous instruction.
  • Families are aware of options for transferring between instructional settings and the design of the synchronous remote options allows for transitions to occur with minimal disruption to continuity of instruction.

Educator Support

  • Educators are trained and supported to do synchronous instruction on the district chosen platform, including practice with the platform prior to delivery with students.
  • Educators receive ongoing, job-embedded support to continuously improve their practice in the synchronous remote setting.

Tech Support and Access

  • District IT staff are trained on the platform and can troubleshoot access issues for parents and students when issues arise. A helpdesk or other support line is accessible for parents and students for this purpose.
  • Consistent, daily platform is identified by the district for delivery of instruction to students.
  • Educators have technology that allows them to deliver synchronous remote instruction, including proper internet bandwidth and devices with enabled cameras and microphones.

Instructional Framework

  • Curriculum is fully aligned to the TEKS and designed to ensure all TEKS are covered by the end of the year.
  • Instructional schedule meets the minimum number of daily minutes to meet full day funding:
    • Grades 3-5: 180 instructional minutes
    • Grades 6-12: 240 instructional minutes
    • Grades PK-2 are not eligible to earn funding through the synchronous model.
  • School grading policies for remote student work are consistent with those used before COVID-19 for on-campus assignments.

In addition, TEA makes available Instructional Continuity Detailed Guidance and Instructional Continuity Framework Overview as a framework to launch “at-home schools” that maximize the amount of instructional time for students this school year and support student mastery of grade level standards.

Asynchronous instruction involves far more self-guided student instruction. It is a curricular experience where students engage in the learning materials on their own time, interacting intermittently with the teacher via the computer or other electronic devices or over the phone.

Examples include self-paced online courses with intermittent teacher instruction, preassigned work with formative assessments on paper or in Learning Management System (LMS), watching pre-recorded videos of instruction with guided support.

All grades are eligible for this method, and school grading policies for remote student work must be consistent with those used before COVID-19 for on-campus assignments.

Districts wishing to use the asynchronous instruction method must apply for a commissioner waiver by submitting a plan to TEA for approval. Plans must be posted online for parents to see and include differentiation by grade and subject, but only one plan per district. All plans will be given contingent approval for up to the first three six weeks, to provide maximum grace while systems adjust. 

Oct. 1 was a target date for submission of an asynchronous plan to ensure the district would have an approved plan by the end of the third six-weeks. Districts can submit an asynchronous plan after Oct. 1 but may have limited time to revise and resubmit should it not be approved after initial submission. TEA recommends districts submit as soon as possible and suggests districts reach out to their ESC within one week after submitting for an update on where the plan is in the process. After the third six weeks, funding for asynchronous remote attendance stops without approved plan. Plans must address four key requirements:

According to TEA’s SY 20-21 Asynchronous Plan Summary (7/6/20), a plan, along with a district attestation, must address four key requirements:

  • Instructional Schedule: Expectations for when and in what setting students are learning, loosely equivalent to an on-campus instructional day, including:

    • teacher interaction with students will be sufficient to support the schedule;

    • teacher availability for students;

    • student access to instructional support;

    • student means to engage with academic material daily; and

    • student engagement is equivalent to direct content work that student would be engaged in over a normal school year.

  • Material Design: Curriculum must be designed for asynchronous student learning, including:

    • assessments that ensure continued information on student progress remotely;

    • instructional materials that support a coherent, logical course sequence that reinforces concepts at appropriate times to ensure continuity of learning remotely and retention of knowledge in an asynchronous environment;

    • instructional materials include specifically designed resources and/or accommodations and modifications to support students with disabilities and English Learners in an asynchronous environment; and

    • there is a plan to ensure district adopted instructional materials are used during instruction and in the hands of students.

  • Student Progress: Daily student progress is defined and measured, including:

    • expected student progress in remote asynchronous learning is planned in advance, defined by day, and ties to the overall course coverage in the course syllabus;

    • easily, trackable student engagement exists to ensure curricular progress in asynchronous learning;

    • districts have systems to measure academic progress of all students to inform instructional practice in an asynchronous environment;

    • student feedback is provided from instructor at least weekly in asynchronous learning environments including next steps or necessary academic remediation to improve performance; and

    • school grading policies for remote student work are consistent with those used before COVID-19 for on campus assignments.

  • Implementation: The district must provide educators with support to provide remote instruction, including campuses plan for and implement professional development calendars with specific supports for asynchronous instruction. These include the following for educators:

    • provide introductory and ongoing content-focused, job-embedded training linked to chosen asynchronous curricular resources;

    • cover all grade levels and content areas that are participating in asynchronous learning;

    • develop content knowledge to help educators internalize the asynchronous curriculum and analyze and respond to data with the use of the instructional materials; and

    • explicitly cover asynchronous remote instructional delivery and use of the asynchronous learning platform and/or learning management system.

Additionally, districts provide explicit communication and support for families in order to support asynchronous work at home.

For more specifics regarding each of the four key requirements and for Asynchronous Instruction Plan Exemplars see TEA’s webinar and/or the accompanying presentation with links (updated 7/21/20).

Per TEA’s SY 20-21 Asynchronous Plan FAQ (updated 10/1/20) after an asynchronous plan has been approved by TEA, a district will be allowed to make adjustments to its plan via an amendment process for any additional information they would like to include or for revisions made after implementation began. The amendment process was released on Oct. 22. Per TEA’s SY 20-21 Asynchronous Plan FAQ (updated 10/29/20) all amendments must be approved by the organization’s board of yrustees or governing board unless the board has already given prior authority to the superintendent/executive director to develop and submit an asynchronous plan.

Is synchronous instruction for PK-2 prohibited?

TEA clarified in its SY 20-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ that synchronous instruction is not prohibited for PK-2; rather, just the synchronous method for recording attendance is prohibited for PK-2. The synchronous method for attendance requires a minimum of 180 minutes be completed per day through a synchronous virtual method (e.g., a Zoom call), which after extensive stakeholder engagement with educators and district leaders, was determined to be neither developmentally appropriate nor good instructional practice as a 5-day-a-week practice for PK-2 students. Using asynchronous remote for these students would allow districts, for example, to provide synchronous instruction for these students in shorter time increments in areas such as foundational literacy practices mixed with asynchronous learning activities that build in opportunities for student practice, interactions, exercise, and play-based activities.

What kind of accountability will be in place for synchronous and asynchronous methods of instruction?

According to TEA’s Overview of Remote Instruction Guidance for SY 20-21 (6/23/20), remote instruction has never been funded before, outside the Texas Virtual Schools Network. TEA’s funding framework fully funds remote instruction for every district using statutory waiver authority, but that commitment to full funding has been made contingent on a system of student-focused checks & balances:

  • For asynchronous – daily student progress with academic content is occurring.
  • For asynchronous – Districts must have approved plans to deliver instruction in a way that works asynchronously
  • Daily attendance is being taken.
  • Remote student work is being graded consistent with on campus practices.
  • Academic accountability returns in 2020-21.

What instructional resources are there for remote and in-person learning for the 2020-21 school year?

TEA is making available through the Texas Home Learning Phase 3.0, a freely accessible, optional, aligned suite of resources that educators can use fully or in-part to support the new learning environment, including:

  • Curriculum: PreK-12 digitized, standards aligned curricular content customized for Texas and the current learning environment
  • Technology: Suite of technology tools including a learning management system to support student engagement and instructional collaboration
  • Professional Development: Content and technology focused professional development to support educators with implementation both in classroom and remote settings

THL 3.0 provides platforms and access by allowing content modules to exist in a Learning Management System so districts can import to their own platform and/or access through single sign on.

According to TEA, THL 3.0 can help address the “COVID-19 slide” and provides solutions to three primary challenges:

  • Educator capacity: Educators have a lot to take on in a new educational environment. THL 3.0 provides support to educators through TEKS aligned instructional materials, technology solutions, and professional development to help lighten the load. The curriculum is PreK-12 digitized and customized for Texas and the current learning environment. Content and technology focused professional development supports educators with implementation both in classroom and remote settings.
  • Materials for hybrid and remote settings: Traditional materials are more often designed for a brick-and-mortar classroom. THL 3.0 will give free access to PreK-12 standards-aligned materials, customized to Texas, that are designed for continuity between remote and in-classroom environments
  • Limited resources: The budget is tight. THL 3.0 s freely accessible to all public schools in Texas and provides budget flexibility to address local priorities

More information is available at Texas Home Learning Phase 3.0 (updated 7/16/20).

In addition, your district should provide you with any necessary software or application recommendations regarding the logistics of communicating with your students. They may also provide lesson plans or other curriculum material.

TCTA has compiled a list of resources for teaching online that can be viewed here.

TEA has a list of Free Online Professional Development Resources and Webinars (new as of 5/28/20).

Are there any rules or guidelines on how to keep safe while we’re packing and distributing education packets?

Yes, TEA has released guidance that addresses several specific health and logistical issues. Click here to read it.

How can I ensure privacy and security while I’m teaching remotely?

As you work remotely, it is important to ensure protection of networks, devices, programs, and data from attack, damage, or unauthorized access.

Working with remote employees demands that schools pay close attention to the technology and security they use. Data security is a liability with remote employees. Districts should have a telework plan and policy that addresses:

  • Eligibility — who is eligible
  • Availability — establish schedule guidelines
  • Responsiveness — implement specific rules for response time
  • Productivity measurements — establish how an employee's productivity will be measured
  • Equipment — establish guidelines for equipment standards; including secure laptops and other work devices with authorized antivirus and security software, and Virtual Private Networking and remote access software.
  • Physical environment — establish and approve remote location
  • Security and confidentiality — establish security guidelines, including strict password policies, local and centralized data backup, and videoconferencing.

Additional tips to safeguard users:

  • When dealing with remote teams, you’re obviously faced with the challenge of not being able to sit in the same room with your employees. In this case, it’s best to go to the next solution in line: video conferencing such as Zoom or GoToWebinar.
  • Before entering your UserID credentials on any website, make sure the URL displayed is a valid URL.
  • Examine links in emails by hovering over them before clicking (look for expected URLs).
  • Examine the From field and the email address displayed (look for @school.isd.net or known business partners).
  • Be extra suspicious about phone numbers included in emails. (Use a known good phone number to verify the originality of the sender.)
  • Don’t open attachments if you are not certain of the sender and the content.
  • When Windows updates are available, install them immediately for all security and critical patches.
  • Forward questionable emails that make it to your Inbox (not the Junk folder) to a security helpdesk for review.

Additional guidance from TEA on cybersecurity may be accessed here.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: There are security and privacy concerns surrounding remote services and software, so teachers should read this before setting up a system for online learning.

If I work from home and use my own technology, do my communications with students, parents, and others create public records and make me a temporary custodian of public records subject to the Texas Public Information Act?

If your district provides the communication network and/or its servers back up the information, an educator does not have to preserve the information on a personal device as a temporary custodian of public information.

What are the federal student privacy law considerations when providing virtual instruction?

According to TEA’s April 2 Privacy and FERPA Considerations for Virtual Instruction, protections provided by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act apply equally to instruction taking place in a virtual environment as in a brick and mortar facility. FERPA protects the privacy of personally identifiable information (PII) in students’ education records.

Under FERPA, an educational agency or institution may not disclose PII from students’ education records, without consent, unless the disclosure meets an exception under FERPA. A school district is prohibited from disclosing PII without the written consent of a parent or eligible student, with limited exception, one of which is the “school official” exception which permits disclosure of PII to other officials, including teachers, within the school district whom the school district has determined to have a “legitimate educational interest.” The “school official” exception can apply to a 3rd party vendor providing online services if the vendor meets certain requirements.

TEA generally advises that school districts should develop policy and guidance for teachers on the storage, security and maintenance of recorded instructional video sessions where students were present.

May non-students observe a virtual lesson?

According to TEA’s April 2 Instructional Continuity FAQ, assuming that during the virtual lesson, personally identifiable information from student education records is not disclosed, FERPA would not prohibit a non-student from observing the lesson.

May a teacher record virtual classes and share the recording with students who are unable to attend?

According to TEA’s April 2 Instructional Continuity FAQ, the answer is yes:

FERPA does not prohibit a teacher from making a recording of the lesson available to students enrolled in the class, provided the video recording does not disclose PII from student education records during a virtual classroom lesson or appropriate written consent is obtained if PII from the education record is included. 

TEA advises that school district vendor agreements should be reviewed to determine whether video recordings of virtual lessons are or will be maintained as education records beyond the period of instruction, and if so, how, and by whom (see TEA’s April 2 Privacy and FERPA Considerations for Virtual Instruction).