AUSTIN, Texas — In a letter to Austin ISD families, the superintendent said as AISD enters into the third week of on-campus instruction, they are seeing the effectiveness of safety precautions and have decided to welcome back more students.
"To maintain our success keeping campuses safe, it is critical that we stay vigilant with our health and safety practices," said Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde in the letter. "We wanted to make you aware that beginning Nov. 2, we will be welcoming all students who wish to return to campus back for on-campus learning, while still offering the option of remote learning."
For students in middle and high school, Elizalde said they will receive more face-to-face instruction, "which will involve physical transitions between class periods."
AISD said it will continue to follow health and safety protocols, including proper use of face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, daily cleaning schedules and disinfection of frequently touched areas.
The largest AISD teacher union, Education Austin, said it's more concerned than ever.
"I think that as the cases grow in the community, there'll be some growth and risk at schools, however, I've been very impressed with the measures that our school districts have put in place to keep things safe in the school setting. Ultimately, the success depends on whether or not students and faculty and staff are masking and distancing and following the hand hygiene," said Dr. Escott.
"We're disappointed. We're just really disappointed. They could do a lot better," said Ken Zarifis, Education Austin president. "We know that large groups and being gathered together is dangerous, yet the district through the state's mandate, is being forced to in-person instruction and it's immoral."
In Travis County, the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus is rising, but Austin Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said transmission related to schools is tracked back to social events outside of classrooms.
To help maintain social distancing during passing periods, campuses will implement one-way hallways or staggered passing periods where it's feasible in addition to using floor markings. Campuses will also implement “walking hallways” where students and staff must stay in motion to avoid congregating.
"We will continue to monitor our effectiveness at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and adjust our plans accordingly," AISD stated on its website.
According to TEA attendance and enrollment guidelines, beginning week nine, school districts must offer on-campus instruction at all grade levels every day for every student whose parent or guardian wants them to access on-campus instruction.
Additionally, the TEA has indicated that the model of instruction where students access the online curriculum on-campus will no longer be funded after the first eight weeks of school. This means middle and high schools must offer face-to-face instruction, making it necessary for students to transition between class periods.
"To help us prepare for these changes, we need middle and high school families to complete the most recent Family Learning Survey no later than Oct. 28," said Elizalde. "Families with students in elementary school should communicate with their campus’ main office if they plan to switch learning models beginning Nov. 2. This will help your campus administrators create the best possible learning environment that will work for all students."
Elizalde said she's been working closely with campus staff and meeting with her leadership team, teachers and principal advisory groups weekly. These weekly meetings are something she plans to do throughout the school year.
AISD said if your family decides to keep learning at home, it supports the decision and will offer remote learning for the rest of the school year.
"From these conversations, we have gained valuable insights to better serve our students, families and staff. For example, this year we have reduced the number of student assessments. I look forward to continuing to connect with our dedicated campus representatives to ensure our plans meet the evolving needs of our students, families and staff," said Elizalde.
If you're interested in learning more about how the district is preparing for these upcoming changes, you can read their latest reopening FAQs.
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