AUSTIN (KXAN) — Due to limited staffing capacities at school districts across the state, the Texas Education Agency is reaffirming guidance which may affect the way school districts handle teacher accommodations and instruct students, both at home and virtually.
According to the TEA 2020-2021 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ, the agency has updated previously issued guidance which fully funds remote instruction to on-campus students as long as the students in the schools are receiving instructional support from someone in the classroom.
A TEA spokesman said this clarification on the guidance provides additional flexibility to school districts.
Previously, the TEA would not grant full or half day funding if a certified teacher was not physically present in the classroom with those on-campus students.
The official TEA language:
“The agency will treat on-campus instructional methods that would otherwise notTexas Education Agency
generate instructional minutes for full- or half-day funding, due to a certified teacher not being present in the room with the students, as on-campus instruction if the students receive
instructional support from staff who have the capacity and expertise to provide academic support specific to the student’s grade level and content area. Some of the instruction may still be remotely delivered to on-campus students, but those students must also receive in-person instructional support for it to be considered on-campus attendance.”
When asked, the TEA would not directly answer KXAN’s questions about which types of staff would qualify to provide in-classroom instructional support if it were not certified teachers. The TEA said staffing in the classrooms will be up to the local public school district to decide.
A spokesperson said the update was important for all families, no matter if they have chosen to learn virtually from home or from on-campus.
Virtual families should consider it affirmation that their choice to learn remotely can be extended for the full academic year, if they so choose. For families who want their children on-campus, they can be assured that they can have the option to learn virtually from the classroom, just like those kids at home.
Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, the superintendent for AISD, said these weren’t necessarily new guidelines, but rather a reorganization of the TEA directives to provide continued flexibility.
In fact, Elizalde said the district has already considered this option. The issue, she said, is locating the necessary support staff to fill the classrooms for the 700+ teachers who would be opting to work remotely. Elizalde said these people would need to be highly qualified educators, like retired teachers.
“When you look at the number of individuals, the reality is that we are looking at almost 800 people that would have to have particular areas of expertise,” Elizalde said. “That’s going to be a struggle for any community, even ours.”
Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, the union representing thousands of AISD teachers and staff, said the district should work hard to implement a strategy like this. It would allow kids to continue learning in pods rather than moving from classroom to classroom.
“I think it’s very important that they embrace this guideline and keep people safe,” Zarifis said. “Come up with a more creative, flexible plan, which is what we have been encouraging for weeks and months.”
Zarifis also acknowledged the issue that finding qualified staffing might present.
The district’s human capital department has granted 756 accommodations to teachers, representing approximately 14% of the entire teacher population at AISD. There have been 30 more teacher resignations and 23 more teacher retirements compared to this time in 2019.
Elizalde estimated, based on the most recent survey results, that less than 35% of students, district wide, will be returning on Monday.