Austin ISD superintendent submitting TEA waiver

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District superintendent is submitting a waiver to the Texas Education Agency that would potentially extend online learning for another four weeks.

Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said the waiver in no way allows the district to keep virtual learning in place for everyone.

This comes after a labor union for AISD teachers, Education Austin, called on Elizalde to apply for the waiver that would grant an additional four weeks of online instruction.

Some teachers and staff worry it’s too soon to return to in-classroom learning.

“I feel confident that our teachers are going to do what’s best for them but what is also best for students and I’ll never second guess what teachers or other staff members have to decide,” Elizalde said. “We will do our best to try to try to provide whatever support is possible.”

Elizalde previously said that she wants to make sure the waiver will not lock AISD into an only virtual learning option. She’s keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 data and wants to keep students at the center of the decision.

“We all have to remember that this is all about the service that we provide and that’s being student-centered and we have to keep that in the forefront,” Elizalde said. “I hope we can work together to find win-wins instead of a win-lose. I think we can keep people safe and serve our students at the same time.”

Education Austin hosted a news conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday to push for virtual learning, before Elizalde said AISD was submitting the waiver.

The district planned to begin in-classroom learning on Oct. 5. They have a phased-in plan where students will return to their schools up to 25% capacity. This will look different at each campus because of under and over-enrollment. The district will prioritize who gets to go back based on certain criteria.

“We would be using our prioritization criteria like students who have higher needs based on special education, bilingual, limited English, recent immigrants, 504, dyslexia, we would use certain criteria so that we can stay as consistent as possible,” she explained.

The superintendent does not anticipate many students to return right away, but she said once people “start to get comfortable” is when they will have to determine how to fill the seats and meet a capacity limit.

How in-person learning would look at AISD

The district released a video showing what to expect for in-person learning.

Students must be screened for COVID-19 before getting on the bus and entering campus. Only one student will be allowed in each seat. The windows will be open, and students have to wear masks.

Inside schools, teachers will use digital learning platforms like See-Saw to support social distancing. Meals will be served in classrooms.

But members of Education Austin want more details on the district’s plan.

“It’s one thing to see a classroom in a video where we have desks and tables around the room. Those are inanimate objects, they don’t get up and run around, they don’t jump around, they don’t have to wear a mask, that’s easy to show a class like that, what we need is a plan for the 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, the 8-year-olds, the 18-year-olds,” said Ken Zarifis.

Face-to-face instruction begins Monday, Oct. 5 for Austin ISD students and staff.

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