AUSTIN (KXAN) — Officials in the Austin Independent School District say a blended model of learning for students resuming classes in the fall is likely, according to a newsletter sent out by the district.
“The school year, scheduled to begin Aug. 18, will likely begin with both on-campus and at-home learning. No decisions have been finalized,” the newsletter said. The specifics of the half-online/half-in person curriculum are still being decided, but parents were informed on Thursday that at least a portion of the learning will likely be required to be completed from home.
“It’s really been difficult for my daughter to do full virtual learning,” Bowie High School parent Theresa Bastian said. “We’re just thrilled they are considering, and it sounds like they are, going to be on campus at all.”
The district has mentioned several approaches being considered, including allowing only 25% of students into the building at once. The taskforce assigned to study various scenarios previously told KXAN that no option was off the table.
“If they have to do alternating days, or smaller classes, or — I don’t know what the logistics would be, and I don’t envy them having to figure that out,” Bastian said.
The taskforce will continue to gain feedback from parents, families and students through the rest of the week via virtual conversations.
One of the task force members, Laura Olson, said she is representing community group Go Austin! Vamos Austin! and working to make sure every family’s situation is considered.
“Different kinds of schedules or different kinds of calendars, and whether we have children at home alone or families who are working,” she said. “We are making sure those types of things are being thought through.”
Olson said they are also considering the impact of after school activities and bus routes. Plus, they are looking into how to guarantee WiFi and technology access to support students with distance learning.
“Some students ended the school year last year and still didn’t have a device. Some families were struggling to connect, and even families who were connected really had a range of both comfort and ability for supporting their students with distanced learning.”
In the newsletter, AISD also said new precautions will be put in place for any in-person instruction, including:
- health and safety training on COVID-19 for staff
- screenings for symptoms
- measures to keep people at least six feet apart
- facial covering requirements for kids age 6 & older
- frequent cleanings and disinfecting common areas
- increased hand washing practices
- having campuses operate in smaller groups and at lower capacities
- requiring students and staff to stay home if they or family tests positive
“What classroom organization looks like? How many students could safely navigate both things like classrooms and corridors?” Olson said.
One parent, Noelita Lugo, has young kids in AISD schools, but also lives with her mother. In a multi-generational household, she said there are added health risks she has to consider.
“Thinking about this fall, what kind of choices and options are we going to have, to both make sure our kids are being educated, but also keep everyone healthy?” she asked.
Lugo also brought up concerns about access for special education students and other programs for kids who might need a more hand-on approach.
Olson agreed, “It is a complicated puzzle, and there are still more questions than answers.”
She said whatever they decide, they will need to educate families on the changes.
“Schools are going to look different, feel different. So, then what do families need to know? Where is the room for them to ask all their questions?” she said.
On Tuesday, Ali Ghilarducci, with AISD’s Community Engagement and External Communications team, told parents that a clearer decision should be made before July when the AISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to take a summer recess.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the district confirmed that’s when they expect the task force to present their detailed recommendations.
The district said in its Summer Vision 2020 announcement:
“It is important to remember that health-related data points and guidance from public health officials have led and will continue to inform decisions in this rapidly changing environment. As such, any suggested educational models could change due to circumstances. AISD is dedicated to remaining flexible while making the best decisions for students, teachers, staff and families.“