Lake Travis ISD students will return to the classroom Aug. 18一some for the first time since March 2020一as the district will not pursue a remote learning option, according to Superintendent Paul Norton’s July 27 letter to the community.

The decision to return to 100% in-person instruction was, in part, the result of community input and a lack of funding, Norton said. The Texas Legislature ended May 31 without approval of House Bill 1468, which would have funded a virtual school program. While some Texas school districts may offer virtual instruction for the upcoming school year, they will do so without state funding.

Among those districts is nearby Austin ISD, which announced July 26 that virtual learning will be available to students in grades kindergarten through sixth. Similarly, Leander ISD will provide remote instruction for the same grade selections. This will be funded一specifically at LISD一with federal coronavirus aid through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

Norton pointed out that by comparison, those districts will receive significantly more federal dollars than LTISD based on 2019 Title I Part A funding or a district’s percentage of children from low-income families. He said $8 million in ESSER funds will be allocated to LTISD compared to AISD’s $155 million or LISD’s $35 million.

Additionally, LTISD released a parent survey in March regarding interest in a virtual campus option for the upcoming school year. Of the 2,778 respondents, 71.8% had no interest in pursuing virtual learning opportunities.

When students and staff do return to campus in August they will not be required to wear a face mask, Norton said. Such a requirement would violate Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-36, which prohibits government entities such as school districts from issuing mask mandates. The order was signed in May, and there will not be any changes in policy, according to Abbott’s most recent statement. He took to Twitter July 27 to write “The time for government mask mandates is over一now is the time for personal responsibility.”

Norton said he expects all families and staff members to respect the personal choice on whether to wear a mask on campus. The same sentiment stands for COVID-19 vaccinations, which Norton said will not be required by the district.

“This is a very personal choice for everyone, and we respect the rights of individuals to make their own decisions. We have not and will not track individuals who have and have not received the vaccine,” he said.

Moving forward, the district will finalize its safe return to in-person instruction plan, which will utilize community feedback. An online survey will remain open until July 29 in which LTISD community members can rate priorities for the 2021-22 school year. So far, the survey has garnered more participation than any previous district questionnaire, according to Norton.

As COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations continue to increase locally, Norton and LTISD officials will remain in frequent contact with Austin Public Health and the Texas Education Agency, Norton said.