Austin ISD resumes class, while public health leaders warn to keep kids home, off buses


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District heads back to in-person classes Wednesday, and that’s against recommendations from public health officials with Austin Public Health while Austin-Travis County is in Stage 5 COVID-19 risk levels.

Dr. Mark Escott, the area’s interim health authority, has said multiple times he’d like school districts to do virtual classes for high schools and middle schools for two weeks following winter break. The break ended Wednesday for all schools, although some went back on Tuesday if their school didn’t use an extra staff development day.

Escott also advised against using buses and carpools to transport students to and from campuses, but buses rolled out from AISD’s bus barn Wednesday morning.

AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said Dec. 31 she knows not every decision “will create harmony among our constituents” when she announced plans for in-person classes to continue. She said the Texas Education Agency would decrease funding if the district did not at the very least offer in-person classes.

Elizalde also pointed out that “the majority of families” in the district have opted to continue remote classes, according to a district survey. Elizalde said if COVID-19 cases start to rise in schools, the district will close them immediately.

“There are constraints, and those absolutely come from the Texas Education Agency,” Elizalde said. “Being that school is an essential function, we know that some of our parents also have a requirement needing their sons or daughters in a classroom setting physically, not just virtual or remote.”

Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, called Elizalde’s decision “reckless and irresponsible.”

“When the superintendent reopens schools—and that power was given solely to her by this board—when she makes the decision to reopen schools in such a dangerous environment, we believe that the whole action was irresponsible,” Zarifis said, “There was no engagement with the union, there was no engagement with teachers, there was no engagement with anybody. This is a sole decision by the superintendent that is reckless and irresponsible.”

Initially, only varsity athletics were set to continue as school resumed and all other extra curricular activities were to be suspended. The district has since changed course and will allow all athletics, varsity and sub-varsity, to continue with no fans or limited fans in attendance starting Jan. 11. Health officials had recommended that all sports and extracurricular activities be suspended while the area is in Stage 5.

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