SB15, signed Sept. 9, grants funding to school districts for students choosing not to attend classes in person. Although the bill guarantees funding for remote learners, it is capped at 10% of students in a district.
Board member Scott Stribling said originally the state would not fund virtual learners, so the district didn’t really have that option, but now that’s changed.
“Originally, we couldn’t get educational credits, and [virtual learning] is just something we couldn’t conceivably do,” Stribling said. “Now there’s this option available, where we’ll hopefully provide some options to families who desire virtual learning.”
Georgetown ISD began the 2021-22 school year without a distance learning option for elementary and middle school students after offering one for part of the previous. According to GISD Chief Strategist for Learning Design Terri Conrad, the bill doesn’t force schools to provide online learning, but it does give schools the funding in order to do so.
“It does allow us to provide multiple different ways of [teaching], including synchronous and asynchronous, and it does specify that pre-k students are not eligible,” Conrad said.
While the district is hoping to have remote learning up by mid-October, those teachers who voluntarily choose to teach online will also need specific, professional training according to Conrad.
Conrad explained there are also stipulations to the bill. It excludes students who did not pass their previous STAAR exams and only includes students who earned a C or higher in foundational courses. Students also cannot have more than 10 unexcused absences recorded in the previous academic year. These stipulations also only apply to students who engaged in remote learning last year, and not those who were taught in person.
According to the district, out of 2,100 surveys sent to students, around 700 said they were interested in a virtual learning option.
GISD does not require masks per GA 38, the executive order signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on July 29 that prevents mask mandates by government entities.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the headline and information concerning virtual learning.