The Austin Independent School District will not offer in-person classes when school starts Aug. 18, the district announced Tuesday. All classes will be held virtually for the first three weeks of the school year.
“The health and safety of our students and staff are at the forefront of all of our decisions," Superintendent Paul Cruz said in a statement. "Even though the first day of school is August 18, we know that our teachers and staff need to report to school weeks before that date. Given our public health conditions in Travis County, Austin ISD will suspend in-person education and deliver virtual instruction for the first three weeks of the 2020-21 school year. We will continue to look to federal, state and local authorities for guidance and directives.”
Round Rock ISD made a similar announcement Tuesday, saying the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Central Texas make in-person education too dangerous.
The Texas Education Agency released guidance last week that said school districts need to offer in-person as well as virtual classes for the 2020-2021 school year. But teachers and families pushed back, saying it was unsafe and would spread the coronavirus even more.
During a Travis County Commissioner’s Court meeting Tuesday, the interim authority for Austin Public Health said schools should not reopen until Sept. 8 at the earliest. Dr. Mark Escott said even though COVID-19 death rates among children are relatively low, the number of school-age children in Travis County and the expected spread of the virus in schools could mean some sobering numbers.
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent of students could be infected over the course of this disease," he said, which "would equate to between 40 and 1,370 deaths" in Travis County.
That’s just among students and not the teachers and school staffers in more vulnerable age groups, he said.
Leander ISD, Eanes ISD, Pflugerville ISD and other school districts across the state have sent letters to the TEA asking the agency to allow districts to do virtual learning until the seven-day hospitalization average is five or fewer. On Tuesday, the average was 69.6 per day in Austin.
The districts also asked the TEA to suspend the state standardized test and for more funding to make changes for in-person classes.
Gov. Greg Abbott told a TV station in Houston on Tuesday that the agency is expected to announce a change to its guidance that would allow school districts to offer online learning exclusively if they feel that’s safest for their communities.
This story has been updated.
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