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Austin ISD Could Close Completely After The Holidays To Help Prevent The Spread Of COVID-19

Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde talking with a teacher at LBJ High School
Gabriel C. Pérez
AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde visits the classroom of Courtney Jackson, a nursing instructor at LBJ Early College High School, on Oct. 14.

The Austin Independent School District may close completely for a week or two after winter break if COVID-19 cases in Austin spike after the holidays.

Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde wrote in an email to parents Tuesday that the district is considering two options after the break: holding 100% of classes online or canceling school outright. If it goes remote-only, AISD could lose state funding.

After the Thanksgiving break, schools went completely online to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from students who gathered with people outside their households. The decision went against state policy, which requires districts to offer in-person learning for families who want it.

Since the district did not comply with the policy, the Texas Education Agency told AISD it would have to make up some of that time if it wanted to continue to receive state funding. TEA said if AISD switched to remote-only again it might lose funding.

District officials said AISD cannot afford to add more days onto the school year, because it would mean paying teachers more than what is specified in their contracts. If the district closes, staff would be paid for the already approved number of calendar days.

“Rest assured that no one will lose pay with either of these options,” Elizalde wrote in the email to parents. “More specific information regarding calendars, compensation and staff expectations will be shared as decisions are finalized.”

The district will take into consideration guidance from Austin Public Health and the severity of COVID-19 after the holidays. APH could soon move the area to stage 5 restrictions,the highest risk level, because of the high hospital admissions rate.

APH's interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Mondayhe is encouraging superintendents in Central Texas to cancel extracurricular activities, because that is where officials are seeing the most spread.

AISD students are scheduled to begin returning to class Jan. 5.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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