Austin ISD parents question district’s updated COVID-19 protocols for 2021-22 school year

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With COVID-19 cases on the rise and school starting in just weeks, parents told KXAN they are concerned about a lack of safeguards for their children.

The Browne family wants more COVID-19 protections for their children in the Austin Independent School District.

“My wife has an immune deficiency, which means she gets sick a lot,” said Damien Browne. “For COVID in particular, my 11 year old and 8 year old are below the 12year old threshold to get the vaccine.”

They did remote learning for most of last school year, but without mask requirements from the state and fewer mandates from the district, their options are limited.

“We are weeks away from having to make a very tough decision of — do we pull kids out of the district? Do we try to petition for a small online remote learning exception?” Browne questioned.

The district says it’s not getting state funding for virtual learning but might consider using federal funds or other district programs.

“We’re looking at some different options that include using the homebound learning program,” said Cristina Nguyen, senior communications specialist with AISD. “Maybe adding a virtual option on top of that. Kids will need a note from the doctor to do that.”

On Thursday, the district released preliminary COVID-19 safety measures it plans to implement during the 2021-22 school year. The district emphasized these plans are subject to change, depending on local COVID-19 data.

In a release, Austin ISD said it’s “committed to providing a safe and healthy environment so that we can welcome each and every student back.”

District leaders are planning to have in-person learning, which is backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they are trying to figure out how they can provide virtual options under the governor’s constraints.

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring school districts and other “governmental entities in Texas” from requiring mask wearing.

AISD is expected to release more information on virtual options on Aug. 2. If you have feedback or questions, you can send them to the Let’s Talk website.

Mother of three and board trustee Noelita Lugo says health protocols, social-emotional learning, family impact and the impact on children’s academics are top concerns moving into the new school year.

“How is this school year going to support our children academically? How is the school year going to bring them back into public education? What is public education looking like this school year and going forward? Is it accelerated learning, more individualized instruction? What will that look like? Will teachers receive the support that they need in order to meet the needs of their students?” questioned Lugo.

KXAN did reach out to AISD Kids First, and the group said: “We are 100% committed to in-person school in an environment that is as close to “normal” as possible. We feel strongly that our kids’ mental, social, and educational health is as important as their physical health. We expect AISD to consider ALL aspects of health when making decisions regarding Covid protocols and the 2021-2022 school year.”

AISD protocols for 2021-22 school year

Masking

Austin ISD will “strongly encourage” wearing a mask indoors for everyone, especially those who are not vaccinated.

Even further, parents can request their child use masks at AISD facilities. If a parent requests their student to do so, the district will make sure it happens. This was released in a family newsletter sent July 23.

No temperature checks

AISD is asking staff and students to screen for symptoms before leaving home and stepping foot in school. The district said its COVID-19 Screen & Go on the AISD mobile app can be used to do this. The district won’t be doing temperature checks, according to the plan, or asking screening questions as you enter AISD buildings.

Isolating and quarantining

The district asks that you stay home if you or your child is sick. You’re asked to contact a physician of your choice and your child’s campus as soon as possible. Anyone who is sick will need to isolate for 10 days, unless you have a doctor’s note or negative PCR test saying otherwise. Rapid antigen testing will be offered in campus health rooms at the beginning of the school year.

Unvaccinated individuals who have had contact with someone who has tested positive will be required to quarantine for 10 to 14 days. Those who are vaccinated will not need to quarantine if they are near someone who tested positive.

Cleaning

AISD plans to clean and disinfect highly-touched surfaces and areas often. They will do that immediately if a sick person has been in the room.

Air filtration for classrooms

Cleaning will happen often in classrooms, and assigned seating will be implemented to help with contact tracing, according to AISD’s plan. Social distancing of three feet or more in classrooms will be required if it is possible. Plexiglass will be set up as well. A HEPA air filtration system will be in each classroom.

Buses operating at full capacity

According to AISD’s plan, buses will operate at full capacity, but seating charts will be in place. Hand sanitizer will be available. Students in the same home will sit together, and cleaning will happen on a daily basis. Students are encouraged to wear masks on the bus.

Assigned seating in cafeteria

All students will eat breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, unless your school had breakfast in the classroom before the pandemic. Assigned seating will be implemented, and students will be socially distanced if possible. Students will need to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before going to the food line.

COVID-19 vaccines and testing

The district is teaming up with organizations to provide COVID-19 vaccine opportunities to students, staff and families. AISD is “strongly” encouraging getting the vaccine. Vaccine clinic dates and times are online.

COVID-19 rapid antigen testing will be offered in campus health rooms at the start of the school year. Testing is not required. Call your school nurse for more information.

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