Back to School in the time of Covid-19

by T. Hunter Lewis, Partner

School districts across the State of Texas are slowly releasing their plans for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. With schedules showing varying responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, many parents have started questioning their plans for the new school year and how they will address the issues that arise when children live between multiple homes. When determining the best course of action for children separated between two homes, several common questions should be considered:

1. Can I make a decision to keep my child out of school or homeschool my child without the other parent’s agreement?

All possession orders under the Texas Family Code should indicate which parent, or both, has the right to determine decisions concerning a child’s education. If one parent has that right, it is best to send a copy of the order granting that right to the school in which the child was enrolled/will be enrolled to ensure no issues arise during the enrollment period and with regard to the other parent raising objections to the child attending school. If both parents share the right, an agreement will usually be required to change anything concerning the child’s school. If no agreement can be reached between parents, court intervention or mediation may be necessary.

2. Does your order require Mediation prior to modifying the educational decisions for the child?

A common practice in Family Law is to encourage parties to attend mediation prior to filing suits to modify possession orders. Many parents are not aware that their orders require attempting mediation prior to filing a suit. Review your order concerning possession of and access to the child to see if remedies are available to you without the need for court intervention. In the time of Covid-19, even if your order does not require mediation, many families are choosing to voluntarily attend mediation concerning school-related issues as it could provide a cheaper alternative to going to court; and, a faster resolution.

3. If I do not want to go to Court, is my current order sufficient to protect my rights under a new school calendar released by our school district?

The Texas Supreme Court has generally advised that parents are to consistently follow the published school calendar for the school which a child was enrolled in prior to the shelter at home orders being issued. Unfortunately, further guidance as to revised school calendars has not yet been expressly received. While standard school days may not change, there is much anticipation that holiday schedules will. If the terms of your current order (specifically with regards to holiday periods of possession) do not align with new school calendars, a modification may be necessary. It is important to review your current order and outline your periods of possession on a calendar as soon as the calendar is released. If you have questions, always follow up with an attorney about all options available to you.

If you have any questions concerning your current order or questions about the upcoming school year, the attorneys at Duffee + Eitzen, LLP are available. Attorneys at Duffee + Eitzen, LLP offer telephone consultations at 214-416-9010, consultations on video-chat platforms, such as zoom, and are available by email to review and answer any questions you may have.

Hunter can be reached at Hunter@d-elaw.com

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