AUSTIN (KXAN) — All Austin Independent School District students will have Tuesday, Feb. 16 through Thursday, Feb. 18 off from school.
That means that students will not have to report to campus nor log on for virtual instruction. Classes will resume on Friday with an asynchronous day.
The district is taking advantage of a new Texas Education Agency waiver that allows Texas schools to cancel classes for up to three days without penalty.
Prior to that announcement, the district was making preparations to continue through the week with students working remotely. On Monday morning, KXAN Education Reporter Alex Caprariello sat down with Austin Independent School District’s Chief of Schools Dr. Anthony Mays.
The following is a word-for-word transcription of their conversation, prior to AISD announcing the decision to cancel classes until Friday.
Alex Caprariello, KXAN Education Reporter: “Tell me about how the district is navigating this weather storm so far. Where is your head at and what are you thinking about now?”
Mays: “The biggest priority is safety of our students, teachers and teams. So we have a lot of team members that are struggling with power outages and various challenges related to the storm. So that’s the first priority, of course. The second piece is meeting the needs of our students despite some of the conditions that we have. So we had to pivot and make sure that we were prepared to address those needs, even as we met yesterday.”
Caprariello: “What is the plan for the rest of the week in terms of learning?”
Mays: “We were prepared to meet student needs remotely, even if that means using telephones, given some of the internet challenges or some of the challenges that were in place. So we put together an assortment of responses, to be able to prepare our teachers and our campus leadership to meet those needs. But we know that even as we speak, our superintendent and TEA are advocating for waiver opportunities given the weather challenges we are facing.”
Caprariello: “Right, I saw that this morning the Texas Education Agency shared that school districts can apply for a three-day waiver to allow for remote instruction. Is that something the district has already done?”
Mays: “That is something we are working to take advantage of. I know that those conversations are taking place as we speak, so I can say that the situation is fluid. But I know that is something we are working on currently.”
Caprariello: “Parents are saying, ‘how are we supposed to do virtual instruction if I am dealing with a 24, 36, 48-hour black out?’ So what are you prepared for and how will our students handle these virtual learning days without power?”
Mays: “So those are the days where we are moving low tech. We are using the telephone. It’s pretty much akin to our early responses in the pandemic when we first got hit with these needs, and we didn’t have technology in place. We were utilizing phones and packets. We can’t do the packets now, but we can leverage the phones. And so that’s what we are prepared to do, but as this waiver has come into play as a variable we can use to address needs, we are looking to take advantage of that, too.”
Caprariello: “What does a ‘low-tech telephone school day’ look like? How does that work?”
Mays: “It essentially is a phone call talking about the assignment that you may be working on or the assignment that we may have already have prepared to move forward with. It’s Zoom, minus the visual. We had experience with that at the beginning of the pandemic because that’s what we had to rely on as we scaled up and got technology out to the kiddos.”
Caprariello: “How about the state of the schools right now? Have you received word that any of the schools have been damaged by the storm or are also out of power?”
Mays: “So far so good. I was out and about yesterday working with the city to try to provide alternative sites for the homeless. We were able to go into some of our buildings. They were nice and warm. The roads were challenging, but the facilities were intact.”
Caprariello: “That was yesterday, but what about today?
Mays: “We haven’t had any structural issues reported to us. We have had good reports. Fortunately we have team members that live right there within the community, very close to the schools. And in some instances, across the street, to check on those buildings and make sure we are okay. So no busted pipes or anything like that and we are thankful. So far, none of that has been reported.”
Caprariello: “Do you anticipate still opening the school tomorrow for the ones that don’t have any other options, like we have in the past? The TEA has always said, ‘you got to at least have it open.’ Are you planning on having it open? Or are you telling everyone, ‘do not come in.'”
Mays: “No, we do not plan on opening buildings at all, out of concern for the safety of our principals, teachers and everyone who operates on campus or central office. We are making sure we continue to meet needs but doing so in a safe way.”
Caprariello: “Is it fair to say that assuming you go forward with this plan, that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are all virtual? That the soonest students come back to the building would be Friday?”
Mays: “I think that would be a fair assumption, given the circumstances. We have these weather calls and the last call I was on, my understanding was that we would not be getting any relief from this until Thursday.”