Austin ISD board votes to support superintendent’s mask mandate

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted to approve a resolution requiring students to wear a mask at school, upholding Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde’s Monday announcement.

The move came after trustees listened to nearly an hour of recorded public comment, many in support of the mask mandate and many opposed.

Catching up students who fell behind last year

AISD is planning to fill the learning gap for students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic last school year.

At Thursday night’s school board meeting, officials said numbers show fewer students met or exceeded learning standards last year compared to the year before.

The district is required by state law to offer 30 hours of instruction for those students who fell short.

AISD said that could be through blended learning within the school day but may also bleed outside that time. The district said this accelerated learning will also require parent cooperation.

“Part of the instructional day, building in a block for this type of tutoring with teachers, but also it could include before school, afterschool, Saturdays, where teachers have small groups of no more than three students,” said Elizabeth Casas, Austin ISD chief academic officer.

Accommodating virtual learners this year

Virtual learners have dropped since the district announced it will be requiring masks. AISD had more than 4,000 students confirmed to learn virtually earlier on Thursday, but that’s down to about 3,600 Thursday night.

School leaders have also extended the time for parents to switch to AISD’s learning platform through Friday night.

The district says next steps include figuring out staffing for virtual learners. Officials said they’re comparing projected and registered student enrollment numbers for each campus and asking for teachers to volunteer.

“We’ve delayed the start of the virtual school sessions by one week, so that we can make sure that our numbers are accurate, and we can fulfill the needs at campuses that need in-person instruction,” said Leslie Stephens, Austin ISD chief officer of human capital.

Elizalde says accommodating virtual learning will be a big hit to their budget– 4,000 virtual learners will take $18 million that hasn’t been budgeted.

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