AUSTIN, Texas - In just one week, students will begin returning to Austin ISD classrooms.
Although several teachers with Education Austin expressed concern about conducting in-person learning too soon, the school board said a phased-in approach will begin Monday.
However, there will be a remote learning option for students who wish to stay at home. "All of our employees surely have concerns during this pandemic. That said, Austin ISD starts with students in its decision-making process,” said Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, Austin ISD superintendent.
The board said they're already noticing significant impacts on students at school campuses this year. Compared to 2019, day 14 enrollment was down more than 5,000 students.
That equates to almost $50 million in funding to the district. "We would lose that income if this continues as it is here," said AISD Chief Business Officer Larry Throm.
The school board said all students will have the opportunity to return to campus for in-person online learning in the coming weeks.
"The reality is TEA does not provide for any option that allows 100 percent virtual instruction. That is not available to us. In addition, parents will have a choice for the entire school year of a virtual environment," Elizalde said.
At first, capacity will be limited to 25 percent. A few weeks later, the plan is to move to 50 percent, but trustees said that could change depending on recommendations from Austin Public Health.
"We don’t have a lot of data about spread within schools specifically, because, for the most part, schools have been closed. As we gain more information, we may need to pivot either in a more cautious way or a more liberal way," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin's Interim health authority.
Students will be required to wear face coverings, bandanas and gaiters will not make the cut. Social distancing will be enforced and sanitizer placed throughout each building. A daily symptom screening app will let students know whether they can enter campus buildings.
Escott said as long as teachers follow all safety protocols, data shows they are actually more likely to get infected outside of campus.
However certain activities, like sports, choir, and band, do pose an additional risk. "If your child is involved in these activities, if they’ve gone to an event, a party, a gathering of some kind, where masking and social distancing were not practiced, then proactive testing, meaning asymptomatic testing, is a good idea in those circumstances," Escott said.