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Austin ISD Will Resume Classes Monday, Despite High Number Of COVID-19 Cases In Austin

Students learn at Boone Elementary School in South Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Minasi
Students learn at Boone Elementary School in South Austin during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Austin Independent School District will resume classes, both in person and online, Monday. Before winter break, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the district might cancel classes altogether next week since the city moved into stage 5 of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines for COVID-19.

The district would not have been able to move students to online learning only because the state of Texas requires all school districts to offer an in-person option at all times. The district could lose state funding if it doesn't offer in-person classes. Losing state funding could have long-term consequences for the district's payroll, Elizalde said during a press conference Thursday.

So, the choice was between offering both online and in-person learning or canceling classes entirely and making up the days later in the year.

"We are between a rock and a hard place," Elizalde said. "There is no agreement, even among physicians and experts. There's no agreement between parental philosophies. So, this is a very difficult place, of course, to be."

Elizalde said that canceling classes while the city is in stage 5 would mean students would have to make up those missed days at the end of the year or on weekends. She said she worried they wouldn't be able to make up the time by the June 30 deadline that the state requires, so the district chose to resume classes Monday.

Extracurricular activities are canceled indefinitely, except for varsity sports. Elizalde said she will not consider resuming these activities until the city is out of stage 5. She said many families have asked to keep varsity sports active so students can still qualify for scholarships.

The district will keep offering remote instruction for families that want it through the rest of the school year, Elizalde wrote in a letter to parents Thursday morning.

"And, if a family wants to transition their children from on-campus to remote instruction, we will make the change upon request," she said.

In November, Elizalde said all teachers and staff would have to return to campus, regardless of whether they have a medical condition. Before the winter break, AISD and Education Austin, the teachers' union, started a pilot program in which individual campuses came up with their own staffing plans. The program allowed a handful of schools to create their own plans in which some teachers volunteered to teach in person while allowing others who have medical conditions to stay home.

Elizalde said she will consider letting more schools do this type of planning, especially if more families choose to keep kids in remote learning.

AISD will continue to offer free rapid testing at all school buildings for staff and students, and the district can still close a specific campus in the future if there is a surge in cases there, Elizalde said.

Got a tip? Email Claire McInerny at Follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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