With the 2020-21 school year already underway, Lake Travis ISD officials shifted their approach to reopening classrooms during an Aug. 31 special meeting.

The district, along with surrounding Travis County schools, suspended in-person learning until Sept. 8 in accordance with local health orders. Approximately 60% of families have chosen to return to in-person learning after that date.

Faced with challenges associated with mitigating the coronavirus, LTISD trustees passed a waiver provided by the Texas Education Agency, which will enable the district to extend remote learning for an additional four weeks if needed.

Students will now resume in-person learning in stages. Prekindergarten through fifth grade students will still be allowed to return to campus Sept. 8 if desired, as will sixth and ninth graders. Students receiving special education services and those with parents who work for the district will also be permitted to do so.

The remaining students will be permitted to return to campus Sept. 21.

Prior to the decision, several dozen LTISD families asked the district to reopen campuses during a public comment session that lasted nearly two hours. Many cited difficulties with virtual learning, particularly at the elementary school level.

“Our children need to be back in school,” LTISD parent Melissa White said. “Being with a teacher on a device has been great and fun, but it’s not a good enough substitution and will never be good enough.”

Teachers also advocated for the option to teach remotely due to preexisting conditions and safety concerns.

Of the 177 teachers who requested to work remotely, approximately 80 have legitimate health concerns, according to Superintendent Paul Norton.

LTISD did not indicate how many of the 177 teachers—who account for 28% of the LTISD teaching population—were being allowed to teach remotely, but Norton confirmed the district’s human resources department is still working to find a solution.

“The issue with it is [that] at the end of the day, it’s all driven by student requests,” Norton said, adding that this challenge is particularly difficult at the high school level due to a greater need for specialized teachers.

Trustee Bob Dorsett Jr. emphasized the need to balance families’ desire for in-person learning with teachers’ safety. He said both are legitimate concerns.

If LTISD temporarily limited capacity, it might allow the district to approve more requests to work from home, Norton said. It would give administrators more time to implement new safety guidelines and control potential coronavirus outbreaks.

Four teachers have left the district over the past three weeks—two of them due to their not being permitted to teach remotely, according to Evalene Murphy, assistant superintendent for human resources.

“It pained me tonight to hear a teacher say they felt like they had a target on their back,” trustee William Beard said. “I would hope that we would support our teachers 100%.”