On July 27, 2020, our Denton County Health Department issued a recommendation to Denton County superintendents, suggesting they consider delaying in-person instruction on campuses until Sept. 8. This was a recommendation only and not a mandate. While some in the public have asked us to close schools to in-person instruction, our county attorneys have correctly advised us that counties did not have the power to mandate countywide school closures. On July 28, 2020, attorney General Ken Paxton issued an AG opinion stating state law does not allow local health authorities to order the closure of schools as a preemptive measure to curb the spread of the disease. Later that day, the Texas Education Agency stated school districts could risk losing state funding if they closed schools solely based on closure orders issued by local health officials.
This recommendation was made considering many factors – from the ongoing rise in positive COVID-19 cases to the need to help keep our children and their families as well as teachers and administrators as safe as possible with the community spread of this virus.
While this was an independent recommendation made by the Denton County Health Department, and the Denton County Commissioners Court were not involved in the recommendation, we have kept in touch with our school administrators since early March.
As we have talked, we have come to realize the challenges they face in balancing safety with the need for in-school instruction.
The impact of keeping students home from school reaches into family lives as parents balance work with assisting their children with school studies. It is a difficult balancing act for everyone.
Our role is a supportive one as the ultimate decisions rest with the local school boards and the Texas Education Agency. Our Denton County Health Department keeps close tabs on how COVID-19 is spreading in our communities and whether circumstances for large gatherings – in public or in schools – is in the best interests of everyone.
The sole purpose of their recommendation is to give superintendents and our elected school boards the information with which to make decisions in the best interests of their students, teachers and parents.
Earlier this year as graduations loomed near, we offered an alternative as school administrators were meeting to discuss what options would be available during this pandemic.
I was able to reach out to the Texas Motor Speedway to see if they would be willing to consider hosting graduations in a manner in which students and parents could celebrate a major milestone while maintaining their safety.
Many of you watched your children cross the outdoor stage to receive their diplomas while you sat inside your cars or stepped outside to stand near vehicles, looking at the large screens as your graduate stepped forward.
I was one of those parents, watching our son cross the stage to graduate from Marcus High School. It was a moment I will cherish forever.
That was the reason behind the suggestion – to give all graduates and their families a moment they will never forget.
We are all facing challenges as we navigate a new normal during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. No suggestion or recommendation is popular with everyone. We realize that.
However, our ultimate goal is to find a way to keep moving forward while still staying safe.
That mission continues to drive all of us – from business and community leaders to county officials and others.
I hope we will all find a way to come together and find solutions to the challenges we face.
It is in these moments of collaborative effort that we create new ties to bind us as a community of one to ensure a better future for all.
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