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Mission considering order closing local school campuses

With many school districts around the state still deciding how to reopen for the next school year, a local mayor is considering ordering the schools to remain closed.

During a Monday city council meeting, Mayor Armando O’Caña announced an emergency meeting for Tuesday with the superintendents and school board trustee presidents of the school districts the city serves to discuss a mayoral executive order to keep all school campuses within city limits closed.

O’Caña said he began considering this mayoral executive order after seeing the city of Pharr passing an executive order earlier that saying no school will be opening within city limits without assurance that children will be safe.

“COVID-19 is continuing to spike so opening schools will open the door for more infections.” O’Caña said. “I don’t want to do an executive order without consulting with the schools first, but at the end of the day the city will have to decide if we want to allow our children to go to mass gatherings in school and be exposed.”

Schools across the state have been closed since last March when cases of COVID-19 arrived in Texas, leading to a shutdown to prevent mass gatherings that could spread the contagious disease.

However, the Texas Education Agency, and state Gov. Greg Abbott, announced late last month that schools will be required to reopen in the state or risk losing federal funding.

The TEA has issued a series of guidelines for schools which include providing parents the option of having their children continue to practice online learning and having kids practice social distancing and other measures recommended by the CDC for in person learning.

O’Caña said his proposed executive order, which will affect the school districts of Sharyland, Mission and La Joya, could potentially save the lives of students.

“Our citizens in Mission are dying,” O’Caña said, referring to the city having 1,305 amount of citizens who have tested positive for COVID-19. “I have to do what I have to do to save lives and stop the spread. It doesn’t make sense that you’re going to put all these kids in the same building and expect them to follow social distancing protocols. We’re creating problems and the possibility of the spread of the virus.”

Sharyland Superintendent Dr. Maria M. Vidaurri said she is interested in how the order will be enacted. The Sharyland school board of trustees is set to meet Wednesday to discuss a series reopening plans for the upcoming school year.

The district previously discussed three separate scenarios for reopening the district next month that include a continuation of online learning, a return to the classroom and a hybrid of both.

A fourth scenario could come from TEA’s recently announced guideline to allow school districts to offer virtual learning for the first three weeks of the school year before allowing students to return to campus, Vidaurri said.

“It’s very fluid,” Vidaurri said of the situation. “We are talking about whether or not we’ll be shut down by the county judge, mayor, or the governor and we have three weeks of flexibility to transition so we could start remotely and see how COVID is doing by then. If we see a drop in cases and of the spread or the opposite, we will make that call. We’re monitoring everything, our board is worried of the well-being of our staff and students. We’re confident with whatever we end up doing.”

A local school district that has decided to take advantage of the delayed in-person start day for school is the La Joya school district.

During a Monday school board meeting, the district passed the resolution to allow students back on campus after the third week of school has passed, and requested city and county officials issue orders prohibiting in-person instruction until it is deemed safe for students and staff to return to campus.

La Joya school board President Esperanza “Espie” Ochoa said she was delighted at O’Caña’s proposal.

“It’s fantastic, I have been praying to the Lord that he brings everyone in the community together so we can stand up for the health and safety of the district. That should be our priority,” Ochoa said. “We’ve had ongoing conversations but it’s good to see what our administration is planning
Things are changing on a daily basis.”

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