AUSTIN (KXAN) — School districts across central Texas are in the midst of preparing for both virtual and in-person learning.
Some large school districts in the region — like Round Rock ISD — will not be announcing plans until next week.
This week, the Texas Education Agency set guidelines that require public school districts to offer students the option of in-person learning in the fall. Some teachers and large teachers unions, including Education Austin, have come out in strong opposition to in-person learning in August.
The Austin ISD and Leander ISD announced this week they will be offering both in-person and virtual learning, and the ultimate decision will be made by parents on which option they choose for their children.
There are many questions that remain on how this will work, and every district is different.
One of the biggest questions teachers have is: how will districts handle teachers who do not want to teach in-person amid the pandemic?
Austin ISD, which is closed this week, sent the following statement via email:
“We’ve heard from our families and understand that they want the ability to choose which educational model will work best for their unique situation. As we prepare for the new school year, we’re planning for both on-campus and at-home learning. In doing this, we’ll keep developing and implementing efforts to keep our staff and students safe. We will continue to look to federal, state, and local authorities for guidance and directives. Health authorities include the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of State Health Services, Travis County Health & Human Services, and Austin Public Health.“
Leander ISD partially addressed the question during a live webinar for faculty Wednesday afternoon by explaining how it will decide who will teach virtually and who will teach in person.
The district said it is developing a virtual teacher job description, which will be posted as new job openings. Current teachers will have to apply for those positions. Chief Academic Officer Matt Benz said the number of virtual positions will depend on how many students opt for virtual learning versus in-person learning.
“We will absolutely be working with your principals who will be seeking out those people who desire and have built-up a skill set around virtual learning — maybe during the spring — they were tech savvy people who emerged and felt like they really enjoyed that method of delivery,” said Bentz. “I know we will be working with HR to look at those people who are, who have put information in with HR about accommodations and trying to make sure we are compassionate in some of the decisions there.”
One thing Bentz said the district is “adamantly committed” to is not having any teachers simulcast lessons from their physical classrooms with students in the room and students joining virtually at the same time.
He said it would not be appropriate to have a teacher trying to manage that type of environment and workload.
The district did not say what will happen if the number of teachers wanting to teach virtually does not match up with the number of students who want that type of instruction.
Many wonder if they will be out of a job.
It’s a question districts have not answered.
LISD’s Chief Human Resources Officer Karie Lynn McSpadden said during the webinar that teachers can request to teach virtually by emailing human resources at firstname.lastname@example.org, but it would be better to hold off until HR has more details on what the new virtual position looks like.
“Right now, as we understand it, we are looking at the potential of an application process for those positions and there probably is not going to be an automatic accommodation to that position for this reason: We need to make sure that any teacher would have the appropriate certifications and qualifications to teach virtual.”
What about substitute teachers?
Leander ISD said the district has been doing a lot of outreach to its pool of substitute teachers to welcome them back in the fall, and need them ready and available to support the launch of the unique fall semester.
Austin ISD has not commented about substitutes beyond what KXAN reported on in the last couple of months. The district sent letters to the majority of subs letting them know they would not longer be in the system as employees, and would need to reapply in the fall.
Currently AISD’s website says: “At this time, the substitute application is closed.”
Round Rock ISD
Many other central Texas school districts have yet to announce academic plans for the fall.
Round Rock ISD told KXAN it is getting ready to discuss the plan in detail with the school board at a meeting on July 13, and then announce it to the public either that evening or the next day.
A district spokesperson said RRISD sent parents a survey last week asking them if they plan to send their students to school on campus with safety protocols in place, or prefer virtual. The district is also sending a survey to staff this week asking about their intent to return.