AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District has decided to go 100% virtual for a week after Thanksgiving break.
That means from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4, all students will be learning remotely.
The decision comes after Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said last week that the reason to switch to remote learning would be based on Austin Public Health’s decision to move to Stage 4 risk-based guidelines.
She told families to make sure their students brought home their devices just in case.
“I realize that this decision will require many of our families to find alternate child care
arrangements, but in assessing the risks, I concluded this was in the best interest of a long term
vision,” Elizalde said in a letter to parents on Wednesday.
The Texas Education Agency will reduce funding by half for districts that preemptively go 100% virtual. Austin ISD, however, has enough instructional time already to cover most of the week after Thanksgiving break. School days will be lengthened by 30 seconds beginning Jan. 5 to cover the remaining balance.
Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, a teachers union, praised the district for its creativity.
“We’re just very, very happy that the superintendent and the district is heeding that concern and really making the right steps,” Zarifis said.
Emma Mancha-Sumners has two kids at Sanchez Elementary—a kindergartener learning virtually and a fifth-grader on campus. She’s also the associate director of the Texas Center for Education Policy.
Mancha-Sumners said AISD’s decision to go fully virtual after Thanksgiving was “an excellent precautionary step.”
“My daughter who has been in the virtual environment has been doing great, but I think a lot of the challenges are just from the fact that teachers are having to do both at the same time,” Mancha-Sumners said.
While local public health leaders say they have not seen significant transmission within school settings, APH Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott has warned about extracurricular events and spread within households, which is likely to have a bigger impact over Thanksgiving break.
Martha Small Dyess, a mother of fourth and sixth graders in AISD schools, wants her children to learn in-person from a teacher in the room.
Still, she understands the difficult position the district will be in following the holiday break.
“If that’s the safest path to take for students and teachers, then I completely understand that,” Small Dyess said.
Some Austin ISD campuses have had to close temporarily due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Earlier this month, Austin High School moved to remote learning and closed for three days before reopening.
The district tested students and staff there and concluded there was “no evidence of transmission from on-campus activities.”