ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Round Rock Independent School District officials announced plans to safely reopen campuses to elementary-aged students in a virtual town hall Tuesday evening.
The meeting, which featured Dr. Steve Flores, a panel of administrative leaders and RRISD principals, highlighted topics including operations, attendance, the school calendar, curriculum and grading.
The big takeaway was a strategy of isolation being planned for on-campus learners. Beginning Sept. 10, the district will allow students back into the building. But while students may be sitting in the classroom, these school leaders warned that it will not be like a normal school day.
The district will, at first, take the extra precautions to keep students separated from one another. Students attending in-person will be confined to their classroom for their studies throughout the day. They will only be interacting with their fellow classmates.
Likewise, teachers will also be limited in the amount of classrooms they will be allowed to interact with. The district says teachers will be designated as either fully-virtual or fully in-person. The virtual curriculum will still be taught from inside the buildings in their respective classroom.
The district also addressed concerns from teachers and parents about the possibility that students will be required to take all virtual classes when they’re on campus. The district wanted to make clear — students will have more interactions with teachers than previously suggested. However, they will still be asked to complete some virtual work at school.
Specials like art, music and P.E. will still happen, although some lessons may be recorded over video. The district says it will meet the TEA requirement of 135 minutes of specials per week.
Recess is still very much a part of the plan. However, again, this time outside will be limited to each student’s specific classroom.
School spirit assemblies and other large gatherings will not happen. The library will offer curbside pickup for virtual learners.
The schedule for the student body has not been established yet. The district says they still need to find out the exact totals of virtual versus in-person learners before firming that up. Parents will not be required to make a choice until Aug. 6.
Daily temperature checks will not be utilized; the district is asking parents to run self-assessments prior to heading to class.
There will be another virtual town hall on Thursday focusing on middle and high school education. A separate town hall on Monday, Aug. 3 will focus on special education.
Easing concerns of virtual instruction on-campus
This meeting comes after several RRISD teachers told KXAN about plans the district is sharing with them regarding on-campus instruction. The teachers, under the promise of anonymity, said in-person learning will be identical to virtual instruction from home, with teachers used as monitors to watch classrooms of students working on their laptops.
District officials eased those concerns on Tuesday, saying on-campus learning will require some virtual work, but it won’t be completely online.
Parents in the district are hoping for some clarity Tuesday night as they try to decide what is the best path for their kids.
When crowd-sourcing views from RRISD parents about the upcoming school year, more than 200 parents, grandparents and students responded to a social media KXAN request-for-opinion. Many voiced uncertainty in the safety preparations being made for school-aged children who plan to attend in-person. Others expressed a desire to return to normalcy.
“I plan to have my kiddos go in-person learning as soon as they can,” said RRISD mom of four, Nichol Pham. “I believe for many students, direct learning is more effective and keeps their minds in motion.”
At the Travis County Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott recommended local school districts do not push in-person student body attendance past a 25% capacity limit. He said anything further might unnecessarily expose school-aged children to the virus.
He said school districts should prioritize certain age and learning groups for in-person instruction. Dr. Escott specifically pointed out children in kindergarten through third grade, children with special education learning requirements and families experiencing connectivity issues.
Escott said local superintendents are estimating around 20 to 25% of families have indicated they do not plan to attend class in-person at all this semester.