AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Independent School District's start date has officially been pushed back amid growing concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
Austin ISD's board of trustees gathered for a special meeting Aug. 6. After some conversation and six hours of testimony from parents and teachers, the school board voted at around 3:30 a.m. to push the first day of school back to Sept. 8. The district had previously scheduled the first day of school for Aug. 18.
"As of yet, [I have] no ability to understand how I'm supposed to design the courses, what the expectations are for creating or design content delivery, rigor, etc. So it would be great if I had some extra time to do that," said a high school teacher at McAllen High School during the board meeting.
Under this new plan, schools will stay completely virtual for the first four weeks, but parents who don't have access to technology can request for their student to learn on-campus. Over the course of the following four weeks starting on Oct. 5, AISD will slowly phase students in for on-campus learning depending on what health conditions look like in Travis County and if they prefer to return.
Starting in November, any child who wants to learn on campus may attend in person if they'd like.
Each school day will be 10 minutes longer than previously scheduled, and the school board also decided that the school year will end June 3.
The board has voted to send a request to the Texas Education Agency to extend virtual instruction for those additional four weeks.
According to a survey Austin ISD parents filled out in July, which acquired approximately 28,900 responses, 66% of families want to continue remote distance learning. The remainder of families wants to return their child to school.
"If you want to phase into on-campus learning, let's start Aug. 18," an AISD parent said in response to this plan. "Why are we extending everything so long? The longer we extend, the less time our kids have to learn."
In addition, 88% of the staff members felt comfortable returning to the classroom, with more than half of them saying they would do so with conditions in place.
This includes social distancing, health screenings, personal protective gear, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and working part-time remotely.
In July, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled that local authorities may not issue blanket orders to close schools for preventative measures only. He said school leaders, not local authorities, must determine when and how schools reopen.
Earlier this week, the labor union for AISD employees, Education Austin, created a list of demands for district leaders regarding reopening schools. The labor union supported the Sept. 8 start date and wants for online learning to be offered for nine weeks or more beyond that start date.
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