Austin ISD will welcome more students in November despite rising COVID-19 cases in Central Texas

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott warned Travis County commissioners about a possible second wave of COVID-19 cases in Central Texas, saying hospitalizations are currently increasing for people aged 40 and up.

Escott attributed this to younger people mingling with older generations, particularly those aged 10 to 29.

“We talked about the importance of those individuals not interacting with the older age groups, because we really need to protect them. Now we are seeing the effects of the transmission of disease between those age groups and certainly more concerning in terms of its impacts on our hospitalizations and fatalities,” Escott said.

This foreshadowing comes at a time when the Austin Independent School District is making preparations to allow even more students back on campus. Schools are sending letters to families, preparing them for Nov. 2, when secondary and high school students will begin transitioning between classes.

In a letter from Kealing Middle School, the science department told families these changes were being enacted to maintain Texas Education Agency funding. Last Monday, AISD superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said the TEA threatened to cut funding if the district didn’t ensure more teacher-student interactions.

“With each transition, students will be with a new teacher and a new group of students. Due to TEA guidelines, we are not able to keep students in small pods as we are currently doing on campus.”

Kealing Middle School message to families

The science department also said Zoom was still a major component of the plan despite more students returning, saying the goal was to “build community as a whole class through Zoom.”

In a separate email from the Kealing Middle School band department, the directors did not hesitate to outline the burden teachers will experience as they attempt to maintain a high level of simultaneous instruction to both in-person students and virtual ones.

“Due to the constraints of technology, it will be very difficult to simultaneously play music together. Thus, there is no benefit to receiving in person instruction while the majority of students are still participating in online learning,” Kealing band instructors Mr. Hinojosa and Mrs. DeVall wrote.

Parents KXAN spoke to shared both concerns for the level of instruction children are receiving as well as the mixed messages families are getting from the different schools in the district. Elizalde has, for the most part, given authority to principals to make plans, level classes and work through issues at the campus level.

KXAN reached out to AISD about the plans moving forward in an attempt to clarify direction and messaging the district is providing to schools which in turn is being provided to families. Despite acknowledging the request, district officials have not directly provided an answer to this line of questioning.

This story will be updated when that response is received.

Administrators say they will send out a new survey to parents soon asking if they’ll want their children to attend class in-person or learn remotely come Nov. 2.

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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