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Applications Open Up For Austin ISD's Virtual Learning Program

Jennifer Moody, a special education teacher at Boone, checks a student's temperature before allowing her in the school.
Michael Minasi
Jennifer Moody, a special education teacher at Boone Elementary, checks a student's temperature before allowing her in the school last October.

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Austin ISD families can apply to enroll their children in virtual learning for the first semester of the next school year starting today. The program is available to students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Families have until Thursday to apply. They'll be notified if they are accepted Aug. 9. Current AISD families received an application via email. Out-of-district families can find one here.

Cristina Nguyen, a spokesperson for AISD, said the program will be available for all current AISD students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

"Right now, we are really going to serve every student that is interested in doing this," she said. "We are even going to open it to our out-of-district families. [They] can apply, and they'll automatically be put on the waitlist."

She said out-of-district students will be accepted to the program if there are any remaining spots.

The program will function as a "virtual academy" with all students learning remotely, not a hybrid combination of virtual and in-person students. Students will stay enrolled in their home schools and are expected to return in person when the second semester starts in January.

The district had not planned on offering virtual learning when school let out in May, but the delta variant of COVID-19 has caused an uptick in cases and hospitalizations. Nguyen said after Travis County moved to Stage 4 of its risk precautions, AISD started hearing from more families who did not want to send their students back to school buildings — especially young students who are not eligible to be vaccinated yet.

In a survey sent to families Monday, 86% of more than 32,000 respondents said they would send their children to in-person classes, 80% said they'd send their kids to classes with a mask, and 5% said they'd have their children do virtual.

Because the state is not providing funding for virtual learning like it did last year, AISD said offering it will likely put the district in debt. At a school board meeting Monday, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said she made the decision to have the option available after hearing from parents and learning neighboring districts like Round Rock ISD would be offering virtual instruction.

On Friday, Pflugerville ISD announced it will offer limited virtual learning to students with health concerns when school starts next month. Families in that district will be notified Aug. 2 if their children are accepted to the program.

The first day of school is Aug. 17.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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