Texas lawmakers weigh the option of providing virtual learning beyond the pandemic


AUSTIN (KXAN) — School districts are making a hard push to continue offering a virtual option for students next year. The Senate Committee on Education is discussing HB 1468 on Friday, which would allow public and charter schools to continue into the fall semester.

If passed, there are some stipulations to ensure student success. Students would have to be regularly assessed to make sure they are on track. Students not meeting that criteria can be removed and returned to in-person instruction. Also, end-of-course assessments must be offered to all virtual students.

There are some people, like Vanessa Lopez, who want virtual learning to stay around well beyond the pandemic. She watched her son, Phillip Lucero, flourish in a remote environment after struggling through the K-12 system from crippling anxiety.

“He flourished. That first week, we could tell right away, it was phenomenal. He could get his work done, he didn’t have any distractions, he didn’t feel like he was under any type of pressure,” Lopez said.

The Austin Independent School District recognizes there are lots of students like Lucero who may be interested in a remote option in the fall. The district has told families it plans to have a traditional, in-person school year come August. However, the administrative team is already building a virtual curriculum in case HB 1468 passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor.

“We want to make sure that is an option, so we can continue to provide a free public education for our community that we can keep them connected with their school, their community and other students and make sure that’s an option for students who need it,” said AISD’s Chief of Intergovernmental Relations Dr. Jacob Reach.

The majority of students, around 60%, are still opting to learn remotely at AISD. But others said that’s not the best way to get an education.

The Association of Texas Professional Educators sees a steep hill ahead with many students way behind in their academics. They said Texas needs to ensure students are in person when the fall semester rolls around.

“Full-time virtual education is a poor substitute for in-person instruction and a terrible model for the vast majority of students,” said Mark Wiggins with the ATPE. “What has the last year of virtual education done to our students academically? We already know that we are going to spend billions of dollars over the next couple of years just to get our students back up academically from where they should be.”

HB 1486 has already passed the Texas House and needs Senate approval before going to the governor.

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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