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Austin ISD Is Counting On Parents To Encourage Students To Wear Masks At School

A student wears a mask and headphones while sitting behind a divider on his desk.
Michael Minasi
A student wears a mask in a classroom at Boone Elementary School in South Austin last fall.

Austin school district officials say they're counting on parents to encourage students to wear face coverings on campus as the beginning of the school year approaches and the area goes through a new surge in COVID-19 cases.

Austin Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde and other district leaders discussed the upcoming school year and answered questions over Facebook and Zoom on Wednesday evening. The event was moderated by KXAN.

A second meeting for Spanish speakers will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. To register, go here.

Elizalde says masking prevented COVID spread in classrooms last school year.

"We did not have outbreaks in our schools last year even with 65% of in-person attendance at our elementary campuses and what did we do that was so different? We had masks everywhere," she said.

Elizalde said that while safety measures like social distancing, outdoor activities and assigned seating for contact tracing will help limit infections, they don't guarantee protection.

Elizalde was asked if the start of the fall semester should be delayed as Austin approaches Stage 5 of the local health department's COVID-19 risk guidelines. She said it's challenging because it's unclear how long the surge will last and it's difficult for the district to make up those days at the end of the school year.

AISD is preparing to resume in-person instruction in just under two weeks as the Austin-Travis County area inches closer to the highest risk level of COVID-19 spread.

The district announced last week it would offer virtual learning to students in kindergarten through sixth grade because they are not yet able to be vaccinated against COVID-19. AISD initially said it would offer only in-person instruction this school year because the Texas Education Agency will not pay for virtual learning. It reversed course as cases and hospitalizations began to soar again because of the delta variant.

The district has said offering the virtual option will put it in debt.

Families have until Thursday to sign up for virtual learning. AISD said it will accommodate all current students who choose that option. It has invited out-of-district students to get on a waitlist for any leftover spots.

Class size for virtual learners will be based on how many people want the option at each grade and the number of virtual teachers available. Virtual learning students won’t necessarily have a teacher from their home school.

All students are expected to attend school in person by the start of the spring semester in January, but Elizalde said that may change.

​"If we arrive and we still see the horizon is very far away, we absolutely may be making some additional extensions or expansions of the current virtual learning . All of that will be subject to the conditions," she said.

School starts Aug. 17.

Watch the town hall below.

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
Dani Matias is a former producer and fill-in host for KUT's Morning Edition show.
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