Unlike the week following the Thanksgiving holiday, Austin ISD will continue to offer both in-person and remote class attendance when school resumes the week of Jan. 4.
The decision announced Dec. 31 by AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde comes as Travis County and Austin remain under Stage 5, its highest stage of COVID-19 risk and one that carries the most extreme social distancing recommendations from Austin Public Health.
Elizalde said expected low on-site class attendance, effective contact tracing, availability of rapid coronavirus testing, and the ability to quickly shut down schools were the main reasons to continue to offer onsite classes as an option. Even though the majority of parents are choosing to have their children attend classes remotely, a number likely to increase under Stage 5, offering onsite classes is considered an essential service, she said.
“We have some parents in our community who are very comfortable with the protocols that have been put in place,” she said. “They feel comfortable sending their students to school.”
Elizalde said she recognizes the decision brings detractors and supporters.
“I know many people are going to be in complete disagreement in the manner we are keeping our classrooms open for those who choose,” she said. “Wherever we have concerns we will not hesitate to close down a classroom or a school to ensure we maintain healthy and safe environments for all our staff members.”
AISD also will honor requests from families to switch from in-person to remote learning, Elizalde said. As of Dec. 31, secondary schools have reported in-person attendance rates of 18% or less.
In the week following Thanksgiving, AISD exclusively conducted classes online during what it identified as a seven-day incubation period after students were home. At the time, Elizalde said the move was to protect the final weeks of the school semester from an outbreak of COVID-19 on school campuses.
Since that time, Austin and Travis County moved to Stage 5 of COVID-19 risk. Under Stage 5, individuals should avoid gatherings outside of the household and avoid dining or shopping, except as deemed essential. Businesses are recommended to operate and 25-50% percent capacity.
When county health officials made the decision Dec. 23 to move to Stage 5, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Mark Escott said he would recommend districts cancel all extracurricular activities in which masking and distancing were not possible, and said he was in ongoing contact with area superintendents regarding plans following the holiday break.
AISD canceled all extracurricular activities save for varsity sports, which Elizalde said would continue to protect scholarship opportunities for students.