AUSTIN (KXAN) — Round Rock Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Flores announced that he plans to launch the first three weeks of school 100% virtual for all families.
“You combine what parents are saying throughout the district with regards to what teachers are feeling throughout the district and I believe, for me, my staff, principals and area superintendents, that this is the right decision,” Dr. Flores said. “We will always put our students and staff safety paramount, and that is what we are doing with these three weeks.”
The Round Rock Board of Trustees discussed the merit of the idea on Monday night. The announcement is not official, although the superintendent declared that this is his plan and it is the safest for students.
“That will allow time for our conditions hopefully to improve and to ensure that our campuses are ready to safely welcome back students and staff,” Dr. Flores said.
District representatives said they are making plans to ask families whether they need a Chromebook or hotspot to get this done. The district says it will distribute these devices to ensure that families won’t have to come to campus to get internet access.
Other safety standards brought up by district representatives include glass partitions inside classrooms and offices, teachers educating outside, under new awnings, whenever possible and students being required to follow signs to travel in one direction inside the hallways.
Round Rock teachers said they were pleased with the districts prioritization of safety, but still hope for at least nine weeks of virtual learning to begin the year.
“We really feel like we need a couple of months to look at the situation. Three weeks is a little short,” said Dan Wright, a special education teacher and president of Education Round Rock, a union representing hundreds of Round Rock teachers and staff.
On Monday, Dr. Flores and RRISD Board of Trustees President Amy Weir sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency commissioner on Monday, asking for additional resources and a suspension of in-person schooling for the fall semester.
The two-page document makes three specific requests:
- Suspend in-person school until the seven-day average hospitalization rate is five or less, the threshold set by the Austin-Travis County public health agency for a Stage 2 response
- Provide additional funding to supplement costs incurred by districts to provide safe and effective learning, specifically by appropriating CARES ACT funding directly to districts rather than supplanting state funding with this federal infusion meant to support pandemic efforts.
- Suspend the STAAR and the A-F grading system for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We had hoped that conditions would improve during the summer but, as you know, they have worsened dramatically over the past month, particularly in our metropolitan areas, including the Austin-Round Rock region,” Dr. Flores, the district superintendent, wrote.
Based on TEA guidelines the agency announced last week, all Texas school districts are allowed to implement a three week, phased-in return to in-person learning. However, at least a portion of in-person learning must resume after that or else the district is at risk of losing state funding.
KXAN has reached out to the TEA for comment, but has not yet heard back.
The district will be hosting a series of virtual town halls for the rest of the month. The first one begins on Monday, June 20th, focusing on public health guidelines and safety measures.
- Wednesday July 22: Virtual Learning/Support Services
- Tuesday, July 28: Elementary Parents: Overview
- Thursday, July 30: Middle/High Parents: Overview.
Each virtual town hall will go from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Leander Independent School District also announced they sent a similar letter to Gov. Abbott, the TEA Commissioner and other top leaders.
LISD wants 100% virtual learning until average hospitalizations drop in the area. They also want extra money to handle added costs and minimize classroom ratios for social distancing.
LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing wrote — “while they want to support families and get back regular schedules, they can not risk any teachers’ health.”