Austin ISD plans for standard, in-school instruction this fall, plus optional virtual hybrid

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District plans for students and teachers to return to campuses in the fall and to provide both traditional face-to-face teaching as well as an optional virtual hybrid model. The district will eliminate the model where teachers must teach both in-person and virtual learners at the same time.

Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde sent an email out to parents and students Friday morning. She said in part:

“We anticipate welcoming students back to campuses and providing standard face-to-face instruction and an optional virtual hybrid model for the 2021-22 school year. The commitment from our district will include that with these options, teachers will be selected for one model to eliminate the concurrent (teaching via Zoom and in person at the same time) instructional design.”

Elizalde said the district will release many more details in the future, but it wants to share as much as it can — as quickly as it can — through what it describes as a very fluid situation.

That will include as it gets updated guidance from the Texas Education Agency, Austin Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The TEA hasn’t released any official guidance for the fall, but told KXAN districts will have to monitor the ongoing legislative session to find out what guidance and waivers will be available to allow continued virtual learning.

For Oak Hill Elementary third grade teacher Beth Thornton, Friday’s announcement was welcomed news. She worked remotely all 2020-21 school year and would like to continue that into the fall. She took on more online students than her normal 22. That way, her colleagues wouldn’t have to handle both in-person and remote kids.

“I took my classroom full of remote learners and then another classroom of remote learners so they didn’t have to do they hybrid model,” Thorton said. “Our in-person teachers were only teaching the in-person students for third grade, and the online students were only engaged with online teachers.”

That’s the type of campus collaborations Education Austin is encouraging. President Ken Zarafis said he can see how some teachers might end up fighting for the coveted positions. But he said that should be left up to the principals and their faculty, and not the district, in order to find out what works best for them.

“That’s the model that we want to see followed. Not a prescriptive model, but a developmental model that teachers, school employees and administration work together to develop so they can all buy into it,” Zarafis said. “There may be campuses that have a lot of kids that come back and some that don’t. So how does that work? I think the faculty on that campus is best to answer that question.”

Thornton said divvying students among virtual and in-person teachers also ensured equity. No student was getting more or less attention than their peers. She called the fully-virtual experience “far more impactful” than even a normal in-person classroom experience, saying there were less distractions that kept students in small groups focused.

“We really wanted to make sure that we were delivering a good product and that we were really getting to know our kids and not giving anyone an advantage over anyone else,” Thornton said. “There’s always so much energy and so much going on. This year has been far more impactful in delivering it to those kids.”

Elizalde concluded her message to families by encouraging everyone who can to get vaccinated. As of March 10, a total of 2,670 vaccine opportunities were offered to all employees. The district, however, does track how many actually receive a shot. There are more than 11,000 workers employed by the district.

“Whether you are on campus or in public, I encourage you to keep wearing your face mask, social distancing where needed and to take advantage of any opportunity to obtain a vaccine,” she said.

AISD moves April 9 to regular school day

Austin ISD also announced on Friday that April 9 will be a regular school day, and the district will offer in-person and remote learning.

Originally, this was listed as an “asynchronous learning” day. That means a teacher would not have actively been teaching students. They would have been learning from home using things like reading books, videos and self-learning modules.

But due to the winter storm, AISD students need to make up more time with a teacher leading them. That’s why AISD made the switch.

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