Austin Public Health to release guidelines for schools returning to in-person classes

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health is working on a set of guidelines for school districts in Travis County as they prepare to reopen this fall.

On Tuesday, Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County commissioners that APH’s working group recommendations on schools will be sent out soon.

Escott said a 32-page draft of the guidelines has been written up and sent out to superintendents of school districts within Travis County, to make sure the guidelines are feasible for schools.

“We’ve seen some of these recommendations from CDC and TEA and others which lack specificity in terms of how school districts should respond,” Escott said, explaining that the APH guidelines will be tailored to fit the challenges Travis County schools will face and address community risk.

While Escott said the state is not giving local health authorities any authority to make requirements of school districts, he is confident that superintendents of districts across Travis County will work with APH to adhere to the guidelines.

Escott says one of the biggest recommendations will be for schools to re-open slowly, with a small portion of students, at first, so schools can sort out how to make in-person learning work.

“That’s important because schools need to sort out how this is going to work,” he said. “Having a small number of students present in person will allow them to work through issues regarding how the classrooms are set up, how students move throughout the classrooms, the hand washing stations, how they’re going to feed students, how they’re going to bus students. These things can’t be worked out effectively if we open at 50 or 75%, so our recommendation is to open at 25%. It will probably be that they do that for two or three weeks before they make a decision if they can safely allow additional students in.”

On Thursday, AISD’s Board of Trustees will vote on whether to postpone the start of the school year until September 8. Students would all learn online for four weeks after that, extending the amount of time before any students or teachers would return to in-person classes.

Escott says the community needs to at least be at Stage 2 Level of COVID-19 risk in order for schools to do in-person learning safely. Currently, Travis County is still in Stage 4.

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