Leander school board approves up to $6 million for virtual learning program

Leander school board members approved up to $6 million to fund its expanded virtual learning program that will begin Aug. 19. (Screenshot courtesy Leander ISD)
Leander school board members approved up to $6 million to fund its expanded virtual learning program that will begin Aug. 19. (Screenshot courtesy Leander ISD)

Leander school board members approved up to $6 million to fund its expanded virtual learning program that will begin Aug. 19. (Screenshot courtesy Leander ISD)

Leander ISD board of education members approved up to $6 million to fund its expanded virtual learning program for about 2,000 students that will begin Aug. 19. The expanded program includes students from kindergarten to sixth grade.

“Due to significant demand,” Superintendent Bruce Gearing said Aug. 13 that the district chose to expand its virtual learning program. But as a result, the district will lose state funding for students who enroll in the virtual program. This required the school board to direct other funds to provide the virtual learning option for its students.

The board of trustees unanimously approved the extra funding from the fund balance at an Aug. 13 special meeting. Trustees also amended the academic calendar for virtual students. Virtual learners will begin school Aug. 19 and follow the regular academic calendar for their nine weeks in the virtual program.

The expanded, nine-week program costs about $4.3 million, Gearing said, but the district is asking for permission to use up to $6 million to allow students on a case-by-case basis to access virtual learning such as students in seventh grade and older. There are 508 students on the waitlist between seventh grade and 12th grade, but not every student would be added to the program, Gearing said.

The district will consider at a later date whether to extend the virtual option for another nine weeks. More funding would be needed if the board chooses to extend the program.

Gearing said the district reassigned about 82 teachers from in-person teaching positions into the virtual program. The total number of virtual teachers is still under consideration, but the district first asked for teachers who wanted to teach virtually, Gearing said.

LISD trustees first approved a virtual learning program June 17 for families who have a need for their students to be in fully remote instruction. This program cost about $2 million and used federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. The original 298-student virtual program included students from prekindergarten to 12th grade. These students began school Aug. 12.

Gearing said the district is advocating to the state legislature for remote funding with Senate Bill 15, which passed the Senate Aug. 11. The bill allows school districts to create limited, local remote learning programs with state funding.

“We believe it is the state’s responsibility to fund remote learning in this particular situation,” Gearing said.

Masks discussion

A district statement was released Aug. 12 saying masks will be recommended, not required at Leander ISD campuses.

No decisions were made regarding masks on campuses at the board meeting, but many community members spoke about them during public comments at the Aug. 13 meeting. 15 people, including two LISD students, spoke in favor of the expanded program and/or mask requirements. Five community members spoke against the expanded program and/or mask requirements.

The district will continue to follow Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, which prohibits mask mandates, Gearing said.

“That is why we have highly recommended masks because we know that they were effective in the last 18 months," Gearing said. "We know they can continue to be effective as we go forward, so we are encouraging all of our students and our staff to wear masks in our facilities if at all possible.”

There have been 38 positive COVID-19 cases at Leander ISD since Aug. 5, according to the district case dashboard.

John Graham, the assistant superintendent of campus activities and support, said LISD is working to make vaccines more accessible with three vaccine clinics. Dates, times and locations will be announced once set. The district will also have a COVID-19 testing site starting next week at Gupton Stadium, at 200 Gupton Way Drive, Cedar Park.
By Taylor Girtman

Reporter, Cedar Park and Leander

Taylor Girtman became the reporter for the Cedar Park-Leander edition in February 2020. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida.


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