Round Rock ISD, trustees battle over partnership with homeschool students

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents are eyeing surging COVID-19 cases, concerned over what they’ll choose for their kids when school starts in a little over one month.

School districts are scrambling, too, trying to find safe and suitable options that please as many parents as possible.

Some, like the Leander Independent School District, have decided to spend some of its federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) stimulus dollars to fund a virtual option. The district announced last month $2.9 million will be spent to implement a 100% remote option for families.

But the Austin Independent School District hasn’t announced anything similar, doubling down on its decision to host students in person and on campus next month.

“We’re starting school as planned Aug. 17, as recommended by the CDC. If you or your child hasn’t been vaccinated yet, we strongly encourage wearing a mask,” the district wrote to families in a newsletter.

The district promised more guidance on COVID-19 protocols will be announced by next Thursday, July 22.

That decision to abandon virtual learning has upset some AISD parents. Natasha Rogers is a mom to an incoming first grader — a little boy who never set foot in the classroom last year. An asthmatic, Max Rogers attended all virtual classes during the 2020-21 school year.

Rogers said she wishes AISD made more of an effort to accommodate families who want to keep their unvaccinated kids home. AISD has continued to point to a local survey which shows the majority of families want to learn in person.

“I don’t have much sympathy, because it’s their job to protect the children,” Rogers said. “If they put safety in front of numbers, enrollment and money, they could make virtual schooling work. However, they said it is not feasible right now because of funding.”

Further north, Round Rock Independent School District administrators have accepted some families won’t return for in-person learning. They’ve suggested a supplemental partnership to work with homeschooled students who have unenrolled from the district.

In this suggestion, 10 or more certified teachers would provide recorded lessons for unenrolled students in kindergarten through 6th grade. The parents-turned-teachers would receive access to office hours for advice and guidance.

“We don’t want to lose those kids. We don’t want to lose that connection to those families, so we have a support option available for them and a partnership until they return to us,” said Dr. Daniel Presley, the district’s chief of schools and innovation.

Presley said this ensures students stay on track with the curriculum their in-person counterparts are learning and helps families maintain a connection to their home district.

However, three trustees spoke against this plan Thursday night, saying it’s not good enough to simply settle. They want more work to be done to capture fleeing families and offer a better compromise to those that want virtual instruction.

“I just have to say that I am disappointed, and I think we can do better,” said Trustee Tiffanie Harrison. “To just throw our hands up and say, ‘well, you can homeschool.’ Homeschool assumes there is a parent to provide that support at home and to teach.”

“There is never a time where we say we can’t do what’s right, because it’s too hard,” said Trustee Corey Vessa. “We do what’s right, even if it’s hard. Even if it cost money. Even if it’s just for a few hundred kids, because those kids matter.”

The Round Rock ISD administrators have not finalized these plans yet. New Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez promised his team will return to the trustees as early as next week with updated guidance that will be more innovative and accommodating.

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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