Austin ISD announces a virtual learning option for K-6th grade families

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a message to Austin ISD employees, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde announced the district will be offering a virtual learning option to families of students in kindergarten through sixth grade this fall.

The superintendent says she made the decision based on local health authorities entering Stage 4 risk based guidelines on Friday.

Many of the details for the plan are still being worked out, but the superintendent and trustees spoke of the preliminary plans at the special session Monday night.

“We want our students in Austin ISD and we want our teachers and our staff to have enough time to prepare for the numbers we may be serving virtual, so it is in everyone’s best interest to move quickly,” said AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde.

Families will be asked to commit for a minimum of nine weeks. A survey has already been sent out to families so they can share their preference for learning. That feedback will be used for the district to get a ballpark estimate on how much it will cost.

The learning option will most likely be funded through federal ESSER funds and will cost approximately $4,500 per student for the semester, a cost that will not be reimbursed by the state. So if 1,000 students elect to go virtual, it will cost $4.5 million. If 10,000 do, it would cost $45 million.

The superintendent closed her note by promising teachers that there will be no concurrent instruction in the fall, meaning teachers won’t be required to extend themselves to both in-person and virtual students simultaneously.

It’s unclear which students will be prioritized for virtual learning. The district promised more details will be released by Friday, July 30.

Last week, the district said it was considering a limited virtual option only for families with students who are unable to attend due to medical complications — Austin ISD said the option would only be available to students who were confined to their homes or a hospital.

The announcement comes as school districts nationwide prepare for in-person returns amid an unfortunate surge in COVID-19 cases. In Texas, districts are barred from mandating mask wearing after Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order banning governmental entities from doing so.

City leaders, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, have expressed frustration with the Governor’s order and the inability to enforce stricter safety measures.

“We don’t want to get involved in a legal issue with the Governor, and want to try to avoid that if we can,” Adler said last week. “But if there was a way right now to order that all students have to wear masks in school, we would be doing it.”

Despite the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations statewide, Abbott said last week he would not reinstate a mask mandate.

The 2021-22 school year begins August 17.

Important Upcoming Dates

For Families:

  • July 30: Family interest form launched to apply for virtual
  • Aug. 6: Family interest form closes
  • Aug. 10: Families find out if they’ve been accepted for virtual school
  • Aug. 16: Virtual School Orientation
  • Aug. 17: First Day of School

For Staff:

  • July 29: Launch teacher identification process
  • Aug. 8: Teacher identification process closes
  • Aug. 9: Notify virtual teachers
  • Aug. 10: Virtual teacher acceptance
  • Aug. 12: Virtual teacher orientation
  • Aug. 17: First Day of School

For Community:

  • July 27: Community Meeting
  • Aug. 4-5: Dr. Elizalde Town Halls
  • Aug. 6: Back to school bash
  • Aug. 17: First day of school

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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