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El Paso’s religious schools navigate virus concerns as Texas allows them to decide when to resume classes

EL PASO, Texas --  Texas State Attorney General Jim Paxton has said that "protections granted by the First Amendment and Texas law... allows religious private schools to determine for themselves when to reopen free from any government mandate or interference.”

This opinion from Paxton says private schools may decide for themselves whether to utilize virtual or in-person instruction and determine their own back-to-school dates.

Private schools in the Borderland that fall under these guidelines say they are diligently working to come up with a schedule that best suits their students, families and staff.

Some parents, though, are not satisfied with the ability of religious schools to protect their children.

Martha Calvillo removed both of her young children from St. Matthews Catholic School, saying, "I don't think its safe for any kid to be in a classroom at all. The space is just way too small for the kids to be safe inside a classroom."

Calvillo said it pains her to remove her children because of the personal attachment she has for the school.

"St. Matthews means so much to us. St. Matthews has been a big part of our family, both the church and the school for very many years. My husband has done all of his sacraments there, he and I got married there and our kids have been there since pre-K," she shared.

Officials at St. Marks Junior High said they have been hard at work upping the social distancing capabilities available to their school and upgrading the technology involved in checking their students vital signs.

"Plexiglas partitions on the desks themselves. Completely around the top of the desk so the student has almost an enclosed feeling by it. Just in case someone sneezes or coughs," Assistant Principal George Cortez told ABC-7 of the precautions they're taking. “We will be monitoring temperatures of every child when they come in. We have a monitoring system and all you have to do is stand in front of it.”

The Methodist school was not yet ready though to release their schedule. Principal Linda Smith told ABC-7 that they were taking the advice of local health officials, following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and listening to the schools community.

Leaders at Cherry Hill School, a private Jewish academy, say they have been following all the virus developments but believe they are ready to get students back in the classroom.

“We were following the city ordinance and state recommendation of going virtual in August as the districts were doing August 17th. Then we are going to go face-to-face on September 8th,” Cherry Hill Head of School Administration Suzie Gibson said.

Wil Herren

Wil Herren is an ABC-7 reporter who covers both news and sports.

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