Austin ISD superintendent sets Jan. 3 deadline for decision to go 100% virtual or close for a week

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a special Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday morning, Austin Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said she will make a decision by Jan. 3 regarding the first week of school of the spring semester.

No official decision has been made yet, and Elizalde said if no correspondence goes out, families should expect to report to class, per usual, for the week of Jan. 4 to Jan. 8.

“Unless we communicate otherwise, everyone should expect that on January 4th, we have our return date for our staff. January 5th is the return date for our students,” Elizalde said. “At this point, we are returning open-for-learning, remote available to anyone choosing that and on-campus available for those parents who so desire that, as well.”

The special meeting was called to discuss two resolutions. One involved granting temporary power and flexibility to Elizalde to make changes to the district calendar for the week following winter break. The other resolution extended sick leave pay to employees who would need to stay home due to COVID-19—either from getting sick, being asked to quarantine or from having a sick family member. This benefit would be extended into the 2021 spring semester regardless if Congress includes the measure in its own final coronavirus relief bill.

There are currently three options being considered for the week following winter break.

  1. The district can make no change, and on-campus and remote instruction would be offered, per usual, on schedule.
  2. The district can transition to 100% remote learning for all students
  3. The district can close down beginning Jan. 4, extending winter break for an additional week with those school days being made up at a different time
The Winter Break resolution presented to the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (Courtesy: Austin Independent School District)

While Elizalde said the administrative team will continue to monitor the data and consult with Austin Public Health, who placed the region in Stage 5-risk based guidelines on Wednesday, funding will be a major factor to consider in the winter break decision.

Due to current Texas Education Agency guidelines, 100% virtual learning is only counted as half days in the funding formula. For this reason, the decision to move to 100% virtual instruction would require the district to dip into savings to pay employees for the half days that would require being made up.

In contrast, postponing the week of school for later in the year won’t cost the district since it is essentially shifting the calendar evenly.

“There are no good options here,” Elizalde said. “We can only do what we think is best given the data we have.”

Some trustees praised Elizalde for her willingness to push boundaries and explore options other districts aren’t. Elizalde said she is the only superintendent in the area that is considering alternative options. She says she has also taken the Texas Education Agency up on all possible waivers allowed.

“You are one of the few superintendents in the state that is willing to push those precautions,” Trustee Kevin Foster said.

The results from the latest survey of AISD staff and families, which was distributed a few weeks ago, were also revealed on Wednesday.

66% of families said they plan to work off-campus for the spring semester, but that number jumped to 76% when the district asked what they would choose if Austin went into Stage 5 risk-based guidelines.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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