AISD resumes fully in-person classes for spring semester

Students in Austin ISD are fully back in class for the first time in over a year.

"I'm very cautiously optimistic," said Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, AISD superintendent. "I think our staff and our parents are working together to make sure we stay focused on our students and ensure that we utilize all our safe practices and protocols."

Those protocols include mandating masks and encouraging vaccinations now that even younger students are eligible.

Some parents FOX 7 spoke to at Summitt Elementary School on Wednesday were pleased.

"I’ve been really happy with how AISD has been handling things," said Allie Horne, who was picking up her kindergartner, Lola. "I’ve felt safe sending her here, and I’m grateful for that."

However, other parents voiced concerns.

Julie Zweig was part of a group of parents that sent a letter to AISD leaders ahead of the spring semester, detailing requests as COVID-19 cases increased.

"Outdoor lunch, masking enforcement - not just a masking mandate - and proper notification," said Zweig. "Those were my big ones," said Zwieg.

Her daughter, Olivia, is autistic and struggles with anxiety. She is now fully back in school for the first time in almost two years.

"It was really difficult for me because this time virtual is no longer an option, but they didn’t change anything with the lunch situation," said Zweig, who has been pushing for all students to have the option to eat outside. "With all these virtual kids coming back the cafeteria’s going to be packed."

Zweig said AISD staff and volunteer parents even put together outside tables before the spring semester that are now sitting outside unused.

Other parents shared a different perspective. Parents Jim Walters and Carl Beck are part of the national initiative known as WATCH D.O.G.S., meaning they've spent a lot of time volunteering and observing.

"We were invited to help with the cafeteria through the beginning of the school year so I spent countless hours in there," said Walters, who believes changing the whole lunch system would be too difficult and ultimately unnecessary. "I got to see firsthand what was being employed to keep the kids safe."

Beck also said he feels comfortable after seeing the protocols in place, especially with the developments that have been made since the fall.

"I feel a lot better now than I did even before August," said Beck. "We’re fully vaccinated and boosted, our kids are vaccinated and it helps knowing the protocols that really worked at the school."

But with all the COVID-19 unknowns, the district continues to play it by ear.

"Everything is still subject to change because we're going to monitor our cases each and every day as we have before," said Dr. Elizalde. "If we need to make some changes, we certainly will. Safety will always come first."

AISD tested 2,639 students, staff and family members during two-day clinics on Monday and Tuesday. 14.5% tested positive.

According to numbers provided by AISD, there were 384 teacher absences on Wednesday. On the first day of last year’s spring semester, there were 293.

The attendance rate for AISD students on Wednesday was 83.93%. On the first day of last year’s spring semester, the attendance rate was 94.39%.

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