AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite a call to remain closed for in-person learning the first two weeks after the holidays, Austin ISD opened its doors Wednesday.
Several parents and teachers say there’s a disconnect from what public health officials are saying and what Austin Independent School District is actually doing.
“I think its important for us as an entire community to limit the risk as much as possible including our risk in schools,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Health Authority. “I will say one other thing where we have definitely seen clusters, and that’s associated with shared transportation. Carpools and busses may be another issue.”
Escott’s public health briefing did not sit well with Austin ISD school bus driver, Rae Hudson. Neither did Austin ISD’s decision to resume in-person learning.
“This morning my route started at 6:45 a.m.,” said Rae Hudson, AISD bus driver. “As a school bus driver who has to come to work, I don’t get the privilege of working from home. I am terrified.”
Hudson has three mouths to feed, so she has no choice but to attend to her normal bus routes.
She says after Escott’s recommendation for virtual learning for the next two weeks, she decided to keep all of her children at home for now.
“I made the call to keep my fourth grader home, because that’s one less person out,” said Hudson. “I thought the district would make the decision to keep everyone safe, but they dropped the ball. As a mother, my job is to make sure my children as safe as possible.”
Other parents echoed Hudson’s move.
“Considering the Stage 5 crisis, and the actions following the New Year’s holiday, it’s very concerning,” said an AISD parent.
Escott says the disconnect is that AISD’s facing a lack of state funding if they close, which he says schools should not be penalized for safety measures.
“I think the schools wanted to offer the virtual option for middle schools and high schools in particular,” said Dr. Escott.
In a statement, AISD said:
“As long as the Texas Education Agency continues to tie district funding to providing in-person learning, Austin ISD is required to keep schools open to all students who choose to learn on our campuses. We will continue to take all precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community, including mask requirements on campus, installation of plexiglass barriers and administering rapid testing on all campuses for students and staff as needed.”
KXAN asked for any sort of metric to show how many students attended in-person learning Wednesday, but they were unable to provide those numbers until Thursday when attendance is in.
AISD revealed survey results from staff and families before the holiday which showed 66% of families planned to work off-campus for the spring semester. That number jumped to 76% when the district asked what they would choose if Austin went into Stage 5 risk-based guidelines.