Texas Republican to investigate school districts’ books on race that 'make students feel discomfort'

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A Republican state lawmaker has launched an investigation into Texas school districts over the type of books they have, particularly if they pertain to race or sexuality or "make students feel discomfort."

State Rep. Matt Krause, in his role as chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified the Texas Education Agency that he is "initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content," according to an Oct. 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Krause's letter provides a 16-page list of about 850 book titles and asks the districts if they have these books, how many copies they have and how much money they spent on the books.

His list of titles includes bestsellers and award winners alike, from the 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner" by William Styron and “Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates to last year's book club favorites: “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot" by Mikki Kendall and Isabel Wilkerson's “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents."

But race is not the only thing on the committee chair's list. Other listed books Krause wants school districts to account for are about teen pregnancy, abortion and homosexuality, including “LGBT Families" by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee, “The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to their Younger Selves" edited by Sarah Moon, and Michael J. Basso's “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today's Teens and Parents."

Krause, a Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, is running for state attorney general against Ken Paxton. Krause declined to comment and no explanation was given as to how these books were chosen.

Krause sent notice of the investigation to Lily Laux, the Texas Education Agency deputy commissioner of school programs, as well as some Texas school superintendents. His letter did not specify which school districts Krause was investigating.

Krause informs districts they must provide the committee with the number of copies they have of each book, on what part of campus those books are located and how much money schools spent on the books, as well as information on any other book that violates House Bill 3979, the so-called “critical race theory law"designed to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools. Critical race theory, the idea that racism is embedded in legal systems and not limited to individuals is an academic discipline taught at the university level. But it has become a common phrase used by conservatives to include anything about race taught or discussed in public secondary schools.

The law states a teacher cannot “require or make part of a course" a series of race-related concepts, including the ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex" or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive" based on their race or sex.

School officials have until Nov. 12 to respond. It is unclear what will happen to the districts that have such books.

The letter did not give a specific reason that Krause was launching the investigation, only that “the committee may initiate inquiries concerning any 'matter the committee considers necessary for the information of the legislature or for the welfare and protection of state citizens.'"

Lake Travis Independent School District officials received the letter and are trying to figure out what the next steps are, a spokesperson said. Officials are speaking with other school districts to figure out what this means for them.

State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who is vice chair of the committee, said she had no idea Krause was launching the investigation but believes it's a campaign tactic. She found out about the letter after a school in her district notified her.

“His letter is reflective of the Republican Party's attempt to dilute the voice of people of color," she said.

Neave said she doesn't know what Krause is trying to do but will investigate the motive and next steps.

The TEA and the rest of the Committee on General Investigating members did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it doesn't surprise him that Krause has taken initiative on a conservative item, especially since there is crowded field in the Texas attorney general race.

“He's not well known statewide, and so he needs to put down a pretty tall conservative flag to get notice," Rottinghaus said. “As a political statement, it certainly conveys the clear message that the Republicans are watching."

Rottinghaus said he doesn't recall a time in recent memory when legislatures have taken the role of investigating school districts.

“The monitoring of this definitely is a political statement and so the fact that the legislature is attentive to it definitely implies that they're not going to drop the issue," he said.

Jim Walsh, an attorney, who often represents school districts, pointed out there is nothing in the law that says books must be removed and Krause's investigation also doesn't call for books to be removed. For now, it's up to school districts to decide how they will respond, but what's certain is that it will add more workload to Texas schools that are already struggling from the effects of the pandemic.

Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement that the investigation is a “witch hunt" and that nothing in state law gives lawmakers the right to go after educators.

“This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children's education," she said.

Krause's investigation comes after several school districts across the state removed books from libraries because of parental outcry.

Earlier this month, the Carroll Independent School District board in Southlake reprimanded a fourth grade teacher who had an anti-racist book in her classroom after a parent complained about it last year.

Then, in a separate incident this month, a Carroll ISD administrator asked teachers to provide materials that presented an “opposing" perspective of the Holocaust in an effort to comply with HB 3979. The law, which comes with little to no guidance, has caused confusion and fear among teachers and administrators, who have seemingly misinterpreted the law.

In the Katy Independent School District, a school removed a book after parents claimed it promoted “critical race theory," which the district later found to be untrue and reinstated the book.

Disclosure: Texas State Teachers Association and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/26/texas-school-books-race-sexuality/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

The law that prompted a school administrator to call for an 'opposing' perspective on the Holocaust is causing confusion across Texas

A new Texas law designed to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools comes with so little guidance, the on-the-ground application is already tying educators up in semantic knots as they try to follow the Legislature's intent.

In the most striking instance so far, a North Texas administrator informed teachers last week at a training session on House Bill 3979 that they had to provide materials that presented an “opposing" perspective of the Holocaust. A recording of the Oct. 8 training at Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, obtained by NBC News, has reignited the debate over the so-called “critical race theory law."

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979," Gina Peddy, Carroll ISD 's executive director of curriculum and instruction, is heard telling teachers on that recording. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing — that has other perspectives."

It's not the first time the Carroll school district in Southlake — the affluent suburb that sits between Fort Worth and Dallas — has made news with its interpretation of the new law, which is an attempt to keep critical race theory, or CRT, an academic discipline usually taught at the university level, out of schools. Critical race theory's central idea is that racism is not something restricted to individuals. Instead, the theory contends that bias is something embedded in policies and legal systems.

Two weeks ago, the Carroll school board voted 3-2 to reprimand a fourth grade teacher who had an anti-racist book in her classroom after a parent complained about it last year. And Southlake's earlier struggles with a school diversity and inclusion plan — as well as how parents opposed to the plan started a political movement there — were the subject of a seven-part NBC podcast released earlier this year.

The Texas law states a teacher cannot "require or make part of a course" a series of race-related concepts, including the ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex," or that someone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive" based on their race or sex.

Since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the anti-critical race theory bill into law June 15, reports of schools struggling to comply with it have surfaced, most notably in Southlake.

Since then, one Carroll teacher covered a classroom library with yellow “DO NOT ENTER" tape. Last week, NBC reported that teachers there have been given scoring tools known as rubrics. Those scoring sheets, also obtained by The Texas Tribune, ask teachers to move through a complicated chart to evaluate library offerings to make sure they are in compliance with the new state law.

A classroom library selection rubric from the Carroll Independent School District north of Fort Worth, used to determine whether a book has met the standards laid out by HB3979, A bill created to limit the teaching of Critical Race Theory and other controversial topics in Texas Schools.

A classroom library selection rubric from the Carroll Independent School District. Credit: Obtained by The Texas Tribune

The cards ask teachers to consider whether an author of each book has provided multiple perspectives. If an author “provides balanced information by providing multiple perspectives," the book is given a maximum of two points. A book may get zero points if the “author perspective/bias distorts content, making the material inappropriate for use with students."

In one email sent to teachers, also obtained by the Tribune, Carroll ISD administrators told teachers that classroom libraries could not be used until they have been vetted, using the rubrics.

“We want your staff to know that the classroom libraries will continue to be available for students, but we will continue to vet the material in those libraries for the remainder of the semester," an email sent to teachers read.

After news surfaced this week about Southlake's Holocaust guidance to teachers, state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, wrote a letter Thursday to Mike Morath, the Texas Education Agency commissioner, requesting a review of how school districts are implementing the law to “refute hateful and racist rhetoric in our Texas public schools."

“When this bill passed legislators warned that racist attacks would occur. It is our job to take every step possible to ensure an open and diverse forum, without subjecting our children to racism and hateful rhetoric," Menéndez wrote.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, tweeted Thursday simply that “Southlake just got it wrong."

He added, “School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction. ... No legislation is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting."

Paul Tapp, attorney with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said his organization has received questions from teachers because they don't know what they can teach. A biology teacher asked if they should give equal time to creationism and evolution.

“These are two good examples of what the dangers of this kind of law are," Tapp said. “The point of public education is to introduce the world to students. It's not there to protect students from the world."

Carroll ISD Superintendent Lane Ledbetter quickly clarified late Thursday that the comments made in the training “were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history."

“As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts," Ledbetter said.

Still, Carroll is not the only district in the state struggling with how to conform to the new law.

In Katy Independent School District earlier this month, administrators postponed an event by critically acclaimed author Jerry Craft after parents claimed his books "New Kid" and "Class Act" promoted critical race theory. The district removed the books, reversed itself and rescheduled the author event after a review committee deemed the books did not contain offensive material.

Katy ISD did not respond to an interview request.

In June, in what seemed to be the first application of HB 3979, McKinney school officials ended their students' participation in the nationwide Youth and Government class. A McKinney social studies curriculum coordinator wrote to educators that “in light of" the new law's ban on political activism and policy advocacy, “we will no longer be allowed [to] offer Youth & Government as an elective course for credit."

The cancellation of the elective course appeared to be a misapplication and one of the first instances that resulted in educators trying hard to understand the new law. So far, the law only applies to required social studies classes, not electives like the McKinney class. State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, the bill's author, said in June that the Youth and Government elective “doesn't have anything to do with lobbying members, so there is no reason [McKinney] would have to cancel it."

Following the Legislature's intent may get even more complicated for schools, teachers and parents in the coming months. This December, Senate Bill 3, authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and passed in the state's second special session in August, will place more restrictions on a school's curriculum.

SB 3 says that at least one teacher and one campus administrator at each school must undergo a civics training program. Also, it says teachers cannot be forced to discuss current controversial topics in the classroom, regardless of whether in a social studies class or not. If they do, they must not show any political bias, the law says.

“What I would hope most of all is that school districts will actually read the law, and apply the law as written and not go beyond what the law actually requires them to do," Tapp said. “As soon as I read the bills, I expected that this would be the result of it, and I don't think we've heard the last of it."

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/15/Texas-critical-race-theory-law-confuses-educators/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas AG sues 6 school districts for defying Greg Abbott and mandating masks

For the first time in the Texas mask wars, Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing six school districts that have defied Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on local masking orders.

Paxton on Friday sued the Elgin, Galveston, Richardson, Round Rock, Sherman and Spring school districts for requiring students, teachers, school employees and visitors to don face coverings while on their premises, which he dubbed "unlawful political maneuvering."

"If districts choose to spend their money on legal fees, they must do so knowing that my office is ready and willing to litigate these cases," Paxton said in a statement. "I have full confidence that the courts will side with the law – not acts of political defiance."

Dozens of school districts across the state have defied Abbott and issued mask mandates. It was not immediately clear late Friday why Paxton chose the six districts he sued.

The governor's executive order bars local officials from compelling people to wear masks. Until this week, Abbott and Paxton have been on defense as several school districts, cities and counties in the state's major metropolitan areas have sued over the order — or outright ignored it.

Some 85 school districts and six counties have instituted mask mandates of some kind in defiance of Abbott's ban — citing the need to protect schoolchildren too young to get the vaccine amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.

The legal push-and-pull between the state's Republican leadership and local officials has led to a patchwork of rules about mask-wearing across the state as judges uphold, revoke and reinstate the various requirements, creating confusion for Texans about whether they or their kids must wear a mask.

Abbott had called on Texas lawmakers to send him a bill that would definitively stop school officials from requiring students, teachers and other school employees to wear face coverings. But the prospect never gained steam in the Legislature.

Abbott and Paxton for weeks have threatened local governments and public schools that adopted masking rules with legal action — a threat Paxton made good on this week.

Round Rock Independent School District officials did not comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that the mask requirement is helping their schools stay open.

"We do work closely with both our local health authorities in Williamson and Travis counties who advise us that masks remain an essential tool in stemming the spread of COVID-19 in our classrooms," Round Rock ISD officials said.

Spring Independent School District officials haven't yet seen Paxton's lawsuit, they said in a statement Friday — and only learned about it through a press release from the attorney general's office.

"Spring ISD will let the legal process unfold and allow the courts to decide the merits of the case," officials said.

Richardson Independent School District officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The remaining school districts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In at least one lawsuit filed Thursday evening, Paxton asked a Galveston County judge to temporarily halt Galveston Independent School District's mask mandate — arguing that Abbott has the power to override local emergency orders.

Abbott's order "has the force and effect of state law and must be followed, regardless of whether local officials agree with it," Paxton wrote in the lawsuit.

However, neither Abbott nor Paxton have the power to enforce the governor's ban themselves, they have argued in court documents.

In addition, the Texas Education Agency isn't requiring schools to comply with Abbott's ban. That move so far has led the Biden administration to leave Texas out of a federal investigation into a group of states that have blocked school districts from mandating masks.

More Texas students tested positive for COVID-19 last week than at any time last school year

Even as some Texas schools hadn't yet started the school year, the number of positive COVID-19 student cases statewide reported last week surpassed the peak seen any time last year, state data released Friday shows.

Between Aug. 16 and Aug. 22, there were 14,033 positive cases reported among students across the state, 34% more than the week with the most student cases reported last school year, the Department of State Health Services data shows. Last week's totals also represent a 182% increase from the week ending Aug. 15, though fewer students were in school then.

There have been 20,256 reported cases among students since the state agency started tracking data on Aug. 2 for this school year. That's less than 0.4% of the 5.3 million students enrolled in the state as of January. Districts with the highest rates of cases include Midland, Humble, Conroe, Corpus Christi and New Caney, all of which reported more than 10 new cases per 1,000 students, based on January enrollment numbers.

Out of these school districts, Corpus Christi is the only district with a mask mandate, and it was recently issued for 30 days after school officials saw a rise in cases.

Districts were allowed to require masks last school year. But for the better part of the last month, the rules around masking requirements have gone back and forth in Texas courts.

Gov. Greg Abbott has tried to ban mask mandates in schools. But some school districts have decided to continue the masking orders anyway, joining lawsuits that have had varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, the battle has raged in local school districts for weeks as concerned parents on both sides continue to clash. In one instance in Eanes ISD on the outskirts of Austin, the tension led to verbal assault and a parent ripping a mask off a teacher.

State officials said they did not know how many districts have already started school or what share of students those districts serve. At this point last year, districts with slightly less than half of all students had started class, and the state had reported 313 positive cases among students.

Among staff members, there have been 3,425 positive cases reported through the week ending Aug. 22, a 26% increase from the week before.

The rise in cases among students comes as hospitals across Texas continue to fill up and intensive care unit beds become scarce. In more rural districts, schools have already had to shut down because of fears that cases among staff and students could overwhelm already strained hospital systems.

Most school districts are not offering virtual learning for the start of the year, since the state did not fund that option. Some school districts are offering remote learning but are using federal funds to recoup lost dollars.

With no virtual option widely available in most districts, parents feared a possible uptick in cases in schools, especially because the more transmissible delta variant is to blame for the current surge in cases and hospitalizations.

The Texas House is scheduled to vote Friday evening on a bill that would expand and provide districts with funding for virtual learning.

Under the latest Texas Education Agency guidance, schools can offer remote conferencing for up to 20 days for students who are sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to it. Schools can apply for waivers if more than 20 days are needed.

A COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 is not yet available. Best-case scenarios suggest it could be late September or early October before one is approved.

Frantic parents search for options to keep kids safe in Texas schools

Heather Robertson has been on lockdown since March 2020. While restaurants, stadiums and stores have reopened across the state, Robertson and her Sugar Land family have not been afforded the comfort of pre-pandemic life.

Her 7-year-old son, Reid, had a liver transplant when he was 10 months old, leaving him immunosuppressed and more at risk for complications from COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, it was hard for Reid to fight off viruses.

Her other son, 11-year-old Reece, isn't under the same predicament. But with COVID-19 surging once again, masking optional at his school and vaccines not available for children under 12, he runs the risk of passing the virus along to his brother. So Robertson is scrambling to find a safer option for her kids.

That scramble is being replicated across the state by school administrators, teachers and other parents. For the second straight school year, schools must worry about how to keep their staff and their children safe and ensure that they're providing the best possible education during a pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Texans. Complicating the matter this year: Gov. Greg Abbott has banned mask mandates in schools and the state will not provide funding for remote learning.

It's still unclear when vaccines will be available for those under 12, but best-case scenarios suggest it could be late September or early October before they're approved.

Worried parents across the state have found some hope this week as big-city school districts such as Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio and other Bexar County schools opted to defy Abbott and require masking for everyone on campus.

Under Abbott's executive order, districts or government entities can be fined $1,000, but it is unclear how this would apply to school districts. Abbott, along with Attorney General Ken Paxton, made clear this week that they plan to take school districts to court if they don't comply with his order.

And Paxton on Wednesday told Dallas radio host Mark Davis that Texas could go the route of Florida, where the GOP governor there, Ron DeSantis, has threatened to pull the funding of school districts that violate his ban on mask mandates. Paxton said the Texas Legislature would have to be involved, but he thinks there are "definitely avenues [Abbott] will look at — we'll look at with him — to enforce these laws."

In El Paso, where school started more than a week ago, Jewel Contreras sends her young daughters to school with masks, even though El Paso ISD is not requiring them.

"That doesn't really do anything because they come home and they're not wearing masks," she said.

Contreras said her daughter's dad is epileptic and if he gets sick it triggers seizures. If virtual learning was an option at El Paso ISD, they wouldn't have to worry about the potential health risks. If cases keep rising, Contreras said she will consider pulling her daughters out and home schooling them.

For Robertson, the Sugar Land parent, the same concerns arise. Masking is optional at Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, and like many other school districts across the state, there is no virtual learning option.

Last spring, when the pandemic hit, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath issued a waiver allowing districts to receive full funding for virtual learning. That has since expired and a bill that would've established and expanded virtual learning this fall died in the regular session after Texas House Democrats walked out to prevent passage of a GOP-backed bill that would outlaw local voting options, among several other changes to state elections.

During this month's special legislative session, Senate Bill 15, another virtual learning bill similar to the one considered in the regular session, was approved by a committee in the Texas Senate on Tuesday. The bill allows for school districts and charter schools that received a C grade or higher in the most recent round of state accountability grades to offer remote learning to students. Under the bill, however, districts can't have more than 10% of their student population enrolled online.

The measure has provisions to keep virtual learning in place until 2027, but several senators can't get behind that. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, suggested the bill end in 2023, when the Legislature will meet again.

Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, also expressed concerns over the bill going beyond 2023.

"It seems to me that we are having a titanic shift in philosophy at some level over a crisis that we know is temporary," Perry said.

Either way, the future of the bill is uncertain. Democrats have not returned to the state House as they continue to protest the elections bill. Until enough of them return, the chamber can't pass any legislation.

Bob Popinski, director of Raise Your Hand Texas, an education policy and research group, said his organization believes the best form of instruction is in person. But with coronavirus scrapping plans, the organization supports bills like SB 15 that allow school districts to create their own local virtual learning programs.

Some school districts have heard the cries of parents and will offer virtual learning at the cost of their budgets. Austin, Frisco, Round Rock, Leander, Pflugerville, Richardson, Lake Travis and Del Valle school districts are each offering some form of virtual learning, mostly for kids under the age of 12.

Round Rock Independent School District has more than 2,000 students signed up for virtual learning, according to spokesperson Jenny Caputo. That will cost the district between $8 million to $10 million per semester, depending on final figures.

While Round Rock ISD did receive funding from the federal government through both the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan, that won't be enough to cover the costs because the district already had a deficit due to the shutdown of 2020.

"We're just relying on our current budget on being able to find savings where we can," Caputo said. "However, you know this isn't sustainable long term."

In Austin ISD, more than 7,000 families enrolled for the virtual option but only about 4,034 were accepted. Austin ISD spokesperson Eddie Villa said it will cost the district $10,100 per student, putting the bill at about $40.7 million. About 2,388 of those children are out of district. The district offered the option to out-of-district families because of limited virtual options during the latest coronavirus surge.

Villa said the district's plan is to pay for that through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, but that could change as the district looks at its finances.

Other districts offering virtual options will also look toward the federal money to pay for it. In Frisco, the school district has about 8,100 students choosing the virtual option, costing the district about $20 million.

Frisco officials, though, say they are going to use money that the state is giving them in discretionary ESSER funds. Frisco ISD is set to receive about $33 million.

"I won't say that I didn't lose sleep over proposing this option," said Mike Waldrip, Frisco ISD superintendent. "We just felt compelled as a district to do this in response to the disease level and what we're seeing in preliminary research that [the delta variant] may be affecting children differently and we've got this age group of children that don't have vaccination as an option."

In rural communities, such as Caldwell ISD, virtual learning is not only a funding issue, but an accessibility one, said Superintendent Andrew Peters.

"Fifty percent of my families are in poverty," Peters said. "They don't have strong internet, they're working off of a cellphone, you know, they don't have a big 20-inch computer screen."

Peters said a lot of people in those families got laid off during the pandemic, and while they want their kids to do well in school, sometimes they're more worried about what they're going to eat rather than how their kid is doing on a computer screen.

"I'm not opposed to [virtual learning]," he said. "I just don't think that our society is built for that kind of learning environment."

During Tuesday's Senate Education Committee hearing, senators especially expressed concerns over how recent STAAR test scores suggested that remote learning led to considerable learning loss for students over the last year and a half. Morath told senators that the percentage of kids excelling in virtual education is "very small" and estimates that learning loss wiped out between 10 to 20 years of statewide educational gains.

In districts where fewer than a quarter of classes were held in person, the number of students who met math test expectations dropped by 32 percentage points, and the number of students who met reading expectations dropped by 9 percentage points compared to 2019, the last time the test was administered.

The learning loss was particularly exacerbated in Hispanic communities. Hispanic students in districts with over three-quarters of learning done remotely saw the largest drops compared with students in other demographic groups, with a 10-percentage-point decrease in the number of students meeting reading expectations and a 34-percentage-point decrease in those meeting math expectations.

But still, for parents like Robertson, virtual learning is the best alternative. She said at least if her children struggled, she was there to help them and still had the assurance that they were safe.

Her 11-year-old, Reece, will attend the Texas Connections Academy at Houston, a full-time virtual school that is part of the Texas Virtual School Network under the TEA. There are seven such schools and most teach grades between 3 to 12. Reid is in second grade, which isn't offered.

One of the schools, iUniversity Prep serves grades 5 to 12, but has a cap on how many students it receives each year. Spokesperson Kaye Rogers said the cap sits at about 1,400 and they usually attract kids who are actors, elite athletes or have health issues. The school has seen more calls coming from parents with coronavirus concerns but they haven't been swarmed by requests, she said.

The Texas Tribune contacted the six other online schools but did immediately get a response for an interview request.

For now, Robertson is waiting for LCISD to approve her homebound instruction request. Usually, homebound instruction is given to students that are confined to their home or a hospital. Students receive at least four hours of instruction per week and otherwise independently work on assignments.

Still, Robertson is wary of homebound instruction because that will mean someone outside her household has to come to her home and give that work to her child. Another option for parents is home schooling. The Texas Home School Coalition, which advocates for and provides resources to home schooling families, has reported that its call and email volume doubled to 1,016 during the last week of July, up from 536 the week before.

"In 2020 we saw the largest surge in home schooling in history. It appears that renewed concern about COVID-19 may be about to replicate a similar trend for 2021," THSC president Tim Lambert said in a statement.

Some teachers and parents are eager to return to classrooms. Stephanie Stoebe, a fourth grade teacher at Teravista Elementary School in Round Rock, said she isn't worried about going back to school in person. She is vaccinated and takes the precautions necessary to be safe, she said.

She has cleaning protocols in place and will move desks apart. She also emphasized that families can send their children to schools with masks on. Policy is beyond her control, she said, but what she can do is be optimistic and give her students the best possible year.

"I'm really excited," Stoebe said. "It's going to be a fantastic year."

At the end of the day, parents like Robertson will have to make the decision that is right for their children.

"I've seen my child on a ventilator," she said. "It's really frightening — it changes you and I don't want that for anybody's child."

Happy Holidays!