AUSTIN, Texas - The Austin Independent School District has made the decision to resume school next week as planned. This means students will be allowed to resume virtual and in-person learning on January 5.
Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde made the announcement during a virtual briefing Thursday morning.
"Austin ISD will resume on-campus instruction for those who choose to utilize our on-campus instruction delivery beginning the week of January the 4th," said Elizalde.
Elizalde also said that school nurses have started receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Teachers in the 1B category, those 65 or older or with underlying conditions including pregnancy, can also get a vaccine.
"I feel like I was beyond surprised. I was shocked," said Sharyn Vane, a parent to two AISD students.
"It just blew me away that when we're in a situation where case counts are higher, positivity rates are higher, hospitalizations are higher, we're in Stage 5, that we would just go back to business as usual," Vane added.
AISD had been considering three options following the holiday season: returning to in-person and remote learning, going 100 percent virtual or delaying the next semester by a week.
Elizalde said a big part of the decision came down to the Texas Education Agency's guidelines.
"There are a lot of consequences, which include funding, which means payroll, which could have long term impacts on the entire organization. We do not take any of these decisions lightly," said Elizalde.
There will be more precautions taken at AISD schools as students and faculty return to campus. Elizalde said plexiglass has been added in areas where social distancing was a concern. She also encouraged schools to utilize rapid testing more frequently and said, if contact tracing becomes an issue or a cluster of cases is identified in a classroom or on campus, she will be more aggressive about closures.
"I will be looking at accessing that more often. There are still some negative impacts to that, again, the lack of notice to families, because if we do that we're talking about having to do that just as the data appears, so it will be from one day to the next," Elizalde said.
"It doesn't feel like a plan. It feels like a response to a crisis. By the time we're closing classrooms or closing whole campuses, you're seeing significant spread that's probably not even reflected in the case counts yet, and you're behind the eight ball," said Vane.
Austin Public Health recommended the district cancel extracurricular activities because that's where the largest clusters have occurred. AISD said they have taken that guidance and canceled extracurricular activities except for varsity sports.
At the beginning of Austin ISD’s winter break, board members held a meeting to discuss the possibilities of temporarily requiring 100 percent virtual learning or closing everything down for at least a week after break.
Just before the board meeting, Austin entered stage 5, the most extreme level of coronavirus restrictions.
Officials are asking everyone to not gather with those outside your home, even if you’re not high risk. Other recommendations include limiting travel to only essential trips like going to the grocery store and restaurants only doing curbside or delivery and ending all dine-in and retail business between 10:30 pm and 5 am.