Another North Texas county health department is shutting down back-to-school plans, barring all local districts from holding in-person classes for weeks due to fear of the Chinese coronavirus.

Today, Tarrant County’s local health authority, Dr. Catherine Colquitt, issued an order banning on-campus, face-to-face instruction and activities until September 28.

With certain exceptions, students countywide will be limited to remote learning for the first six weeks of the 2020-21 school year.

The order applies to all pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students in public and non-religious private schools in Tarrant County. The cities of Arlington and Burleson, which have their own local health authorities, joined the order.

Colquitt told Tarrant County commissioners this morning that she is concerned about the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county and wanted to delay the opening of schools to “let the numbers flatten out a bit.”

According to the order, the authority to shut down schools due to public health “lies with the local health authority, the Department of State Health Services, and the Governor.”

Last week, Dallas County’s health and human services director, Dr. Philip Huang, issued a similar order banning all on-campus, face-to-face classes at the county’s public and private preK-12 schools through September 7.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has clarified that religious private schools need not comply with such local public health orders.

Tarrant County’s order makes exceptions for students who can’t work remotely, as well as for special education students and extracurricular activities. Dallas County’s order does not.

The orders come as the Texas Education Agency issued new guidance for the 2020-21 school year.

Earlier this month, TEA said schools “must provide daily on-campus attendance for students” as well as offer “virtual instruction,” but could “temporarily limit on-campus instruction” during the first three weeks of school.

TEA updated its guidance on July 17, extending the amount of time districts may limit on-campus instruction and still receive state funding to eight weeks.

Several North Texas suburban school districts—including Allen, Frisco, Lovejoy, McKinney, and Plano—also announced last week they will keep campuses closed for now and delay the start of in-person teaching until at least early September, limiting students to remote learning for the first three weeks of the school year or “until the public health situation improves.”

Just yesterday, Fort Worth Independent School District—the largest district in Tarrant County—said its 84,000 students could choose either on-campus or online instruction when they returned to classes on August 17.

“We believe the best place for a child to learn is in the classroom with a teacher,” Superintendent Kent Scribner said in announcing the district’s “Return to Learning” plans for Fall 2020 classes. “We also know our current public health crisis is making that a challenge.”

Scribner acknowledged the district’s plans were “flexible.”

Fort Worth ISD’s school board meets tonight. The district is also hosting virtual townhalls July 27 and 28 to address questions about back-to-school plans.

Dallas ISD—the second-largest district in Texas with the largest student enrollment in Dallas County—is holding a school board meeting on Thursday to vote on postponing the start of the school year from August 17 to September 8.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.