Austin, Leander ISDs won’t require struggling remote students to return to campus

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin and Leander Independent School Districts will not require struggling, remote learning students to return to campus after the Texas Education Agency gave school districts that authority.

Updated guidance from the TEA offered a framework for school districts to require students to return to an in-person learning environment. While a school district must provide remote instruction for all students, it can determine that a “student’s attendance and/or academic performance in one or more classes puts them at significant risk of severe learning loss.”

Austin and Leander ISD officials confirmed to KXAN on Friday they do not plan to force struggling virtual learning students to return to in-person learning.

“Every family in Austin ISD is empowered to choose the learning method that is best for their child,” an Austin ISD spokesperson said in an email.

Cash Rogus, 11, works on virtual school work. Austin ISD said it won’t require students struggling with virtual learning to return to campus.

Brandi Rogus’ two sons, Holden and Cash, were used to getting straight A’s before the pandemic. Even with their struggles in remote learning, she has no plans to send them back to their AISD classrooms.

“We’re working hard to get 70’s,” Rogus told KXAN.

Rogus said she was pleased by AISD’s decision as she worried about the health risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have immune deficiency myself so it’s not my children… it’s what they would bring home,” she said.

Matt Bentz, the chief teaching and learning officer for Leander ISD, said the mandate may be a “tool” the district uses in the future but added he has no plans to go that route now. Bentz said passing rates between virtual and in-person students are nearly equal across grade levels.

“We’d prefer to avoid being in a position where we force a student to come back in-person,” Bentz told KXAN. “That’s not really aligned to our philosophy on building relationships and partnering with our families.”

A spokesperson for Round Rock ISD said district leaders are reviewing the TEA’s new guidance. Hays CISD and Lockhart ISD will continue to offer remote learning options. A Marble Falls ISD officials said the TEA’s guidance has not changed the district’s strategy.

The TEA says this applies to students who have a class average of 70 or below (or the equivalent) and/or have three or more unexcused absences in the grading period.

In these cases, the TEA says a school district may choose to pull the student from remote learning and place them on-campus for in-person learning if it follows these steps:

  1. The district must submit an attestation, or evidence, to the TEA which officially signifies the student meets all the requirements for a transition out of remote learning
  2. The district outlines that the student meets one or both of the requirements listed above
  3. The district notifies parents at least two weeks prior to bringing the student on campus
  4. Parents agree to change their child’s learning environment to on-campus, or appeal the decision
  5. The district does not conclude with the parents that the student can be successful learning from home

The TEA says families may appeal the district’s decision by submitting a medical exemption. The TEA says districts must provide families this opportunity, along with medical authorization. Families can also request a transition meeting, which the district must schedule within three days. Students must be allowed to learn remotely until that meeting has been held.

The TEA also is providing flexibility for school districts to extend leniency to students, allowing, for example, more unexcused absences or a lower class average than 70 before beginning the transition process.

The TEA reminds parents that they can choose to transition their child to on-campus learning at any time.

“When students are struggling academically in the remote setting, teachers and principals should talk to families about their options before making any remote instruction setting change. Certainly, health and safety of the student and their family should remain the primary
consideration,” the TEA wrote.

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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