AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a year where attendance on campus or virtually has turned into a discussion for lawmakers, every student counts for districts.

The Austin Independent School District anticipated hitting more than 77,000 students this year but just shared enrollment is below 74,000.

District leaders are tracking attendance in a way that’s alarming some parents of faith.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” said Lisa Shapiro. “I think it’s an absolute intrusion by government into religion.”

Shapiro is talking about a form that went out to parents and their students recently about celebrating Rosh Hashanah. The letter asks for the date the holiday was observed, where the student traveled and the associated activity. They are questions Shapiro found oddly specific.

Austin ISD form asking parents if their student was absent on Rosh Hashanah
Austin ISD form asking parents if their student was absent on Rosh Hashanah

“I don’t think that would happen in a more mainstream religion like Christianity,” said Shapiro. “I think if someone was taking off for Easter, then the school would not be asking for where they traveled or who was in charge of the service.”

Another parent who will soon be celebrating Diwali anticipates finding a letter in her inbox.

“We’re not going into personal territory here. You don’t need to know where we are traveling to,” said Mohini Patel. “Maybe because of COVID, you need to know where the child traveled, if it was an area with a high number of cases.”

Austin ISD responded to KXAN Friday, saying the letter has nothing to do with COVID-19 but was a move to track absences for religious reasons. The district did say parents’ concerns have been heard, and officials are listening.

“We are working with our equity officer and gathering background information to make sure that the form moving forward is getting information back in an equitable manner,” said Eduardo Villa with Austin ISD communications.