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While current case counts of COVID-19 are low and hospitalization rates have continued to decline, past history with variants and evidence of novel sub-variants of the virus indicates that the pandemic will continue to have an impact on schools and surrounding communities. As such, it becomes more important for schools and school districts to adapt to the changes “on the ground” to best protect students, teachers, staff, and their families. The ability to adapt is paramount to keeping schools open safely and includes taking the latest recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) under advisement to direct school policy related to student, staff, and teacher safety. 

Additionally, Texas families are increasingly asserting their rights to consider the recommendations of the CDC, their Primary Care Physicians, and others to self-determine the level of risk that they feel is best for their children. Since school attendance is compulsory in Texas and opportunities for high-quality virtual schooling have not been made widely available, the number of Texas families that have opted to homeschool their children has greatly increased since the pandemic began. Reliable sources regarding withdrawals to homeschool in Texas are difficult to find, as the data collected, methods of analysis, and interpretation are subject to a variety of political and private vested interests. The results of the The United States Census Bureau’s (2021) “Home Pulse Survey” indicated that homeschooling rates doubled in the 2020-2021 school year. The Texas Home School Coalition (2021) reports that the use of their online “withdrawal tool” skyrocketed by 1700% in the Summer of 2020, and estimated a “record breaking” 670,000 new homeschooling students amid the pandemic, translating to a $7 billion loss for Texas school districts receiving state funding based on student attendance. According to a recent poll, 72% of these families say they plan to continue homeschooling after the pandemic (Asmussen, 2021). A family’s decision to homeschool, when it is not based on a parents’ religious beliefs, educational philosophy, or teaching capability, but is instead initiated by a loss of faith in the capacity of public schools to keep their children safe or meet their basic educational needs, introduces a host of new risks for Texas children. This includes the potential loss of valuable instructional time, which will be difficult and costly to address when and if these students return to public schooling, and reduces childrens’ contact with mandated reporters and other adults who could notice and intervene in cases of abuse and neglect (Coleman, 2021; He, Ortiz, Kishton, Fingerman, Jacobs & Sinko, 2021; Ma, Orsi & Brooks-Russell, 2022). 

Further, working parents who do not have the means, ability, or desire to homeschool their children depend on schools and daycare centers to enable them to retain their employment (Ruppanner et al., 2021; Modestino et al, 2021). For these parents, it is imperative that administrators have all available tools at their disposal to quickly respond to changing circumstances to minimize the risks of illness, quarantines, or closures due to exposure to COVID-19. Apart from the possibility of severe illness, the days missed from work due to ongoing or repetitive quarantine or school closures have been catastrophic for many, especially women, who are disproportionately leaving the workforce due to a lack of available childcare (Collins, et al., 2021; Petts, 2021). This also places a significant and inequitable burden on low-income families, exacerbating existing inequalities by increasing poverty, food-instability, and homelessness within these communities, preventing them from retaining employment, and making progress toward economic recovery from the ongoing impacts of the pandemic increasingly difficult (Blundell et al., 2020, Malik, 2020; Haseltine, 2021). The Center and Institutes housed within the College of Education at TCU (Center for Public Education and Community Engagement, Andrews Institute of Mathematics & Science Education, ANSERS) believe that in order to maximize the ability of districts and their schools to meet the continuing challenges of a global pandemic, they must be free to choose the best courses of action as the pandemic continues to evolve to keep schools open and the stakeholders safe. This is especially important given the variety of contexts surrounding schools in a state as large as Texas. 

Districts, in consultation with their democratically elected school boards, should not be prevented from implementing policies that allow families who wish to reduce their exposure to the Covid-19 virus to do so while attending school and receiving quality instruction within the parameters of the law. In order to enable all families to make the choices that are right for them, we therefore, encourage government leaders to avoid blanket executive orders, such as the ones issued by Governor Greg Abbot related to masks and vaccines, as these orders make it difficult for school districts to implement policies which reflect the needs of each specific community through the established democratic process. We also urge the state to ensure full funding of virtual/hybrid learning options for all Texas students, as well as infrastructure and ongoing support for such programs, so as not to infringe on any family’s ability to choose what is best for their child, and not only those children who have achieved the academic and attendance standards put forth by the state in Senate Bill 15, which we find places an inequitable burden on districts which serve low-SES and BIPOC communities (Bacher-Hicks et al, 2021; Lopez, 2021). The goal of building such an infrastructure is so that schools in Texas are well-positioned to adapt to future catastrophic events that impact learning. Ultimately, the effectiveness of Texas schools to continue to battle the COVID-19 virus will largely depend on administrators and school board members’ ability to listen to voices of public health professionals and the medical community, pay attention to local data, consider the needs expressed by the families they serve, and act decisively so that schools can remain open, and all students can receive a quality education (Limbers, 2021; Pattison et al., 2021).