A look at Pflugerville ISD's evolving in-person learning plans

Pflugerville ISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Pflugerville ISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Pflugerville ISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

As schools throughout Central Texas navigate the coronavirus pandemic, Pflugerville ISD is among a number that opted to begin the 2020-21 academic year 100% virtually. Now, the board of trustees and school leadership are weighing when to offer an option for in-person education this fall.

PfISD’s board of trustees will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 to further deliberate a return to on-campus learning. Ahead of the meeting, here is a look at the evolution of the district’s fall plans, as well as thoughts and concerns provided by community members regarding on-campus teaching.

Texas Education Agency releases guidance

Under TEA guidance released July 17, school districts were granted the ability to limit instruction to virtual only for the first four weeks of the academic year.

After the first four weeks, “a school system can continue to limit access to on-campus instruction for an additional four weeks, if needed, with a board-approved waiver request to TEA,” per the TEA guidelines.

Exceptions to the TEA guidelines include students in need of reliable internet access or devices to complete their coursework. In the case of a student requiring on-campus instruction, the TEA guidelines denote those students “will still be entitled to on-campus instruction every day during this [additional four weeks] transition period.”

Fall semester begins

Pflugerville ISD initially began the fall semester with a 100% online curriculum Aug. 13 with the option to return to in-person classes on Sept. 8. This represents an initial three-week virtual learning period.

Consideration of extended virtual learning

At an Aug. 20 board meeting, Superintendent Douglas Killian said he would submit a waiver to the TEA to extend virtual learning to a full four weeks. The extension would postpone the return of PfISD’s on-campus instruction from Sept. 8 to Sept. 11.

More than 60 parents, teachers and community members addressed the board Aug. 20, largely opposed to resuming on-campus instruction in September. Speakers cited safety concerns for both district teachers and students and pointed to area schools opting for eight weeks of virtual learning, such as Manor ISD.

Manor ISD’s board of trustees voted Aug. 3 to extend its online curriculum from Sept. 14 to Oct. 12. The school district will now operate virtually from Aug. 17 through Oct. 12 unless otherwise ordered by local, state and federal mandates.

Superintendent outlines options

Killian sent an email to district parents Aug. 25, outlining his planned submission for the TEA waiver. His proposal would change the academic calendar slightly, adding a professional development day for Sept. 11 and allowing students who opted for in-person learning to return to campus Sept. 14.

“The TEA waiver will allow PfISD to utilize an additional four weeks to serve as an extended transition period and reduce the percentage of students on our campuses,” Killian wrote in the email.

Now, the board is expected to vote Aug. 27 on two new elements to the fall semester: resuming optional on-campus instruction on Monday, Sept. 14, and submitting a 40% campus hybrid instruction waiver for students enrolled in grades 9-12.

The hybrid on-campus model, for students who opt into it, “requires students to be on campus for at least 40% of the days” during PfISD’s nine-week grading period. Additional information surrounding the hybrid model, including its potential start date, is expected to be delivered to the board Aug. 27.

Navigating on-campus instruction

TEA guidelines stipulate in-person learning “must be offered for all grades served by the campus every day for every student” who has opted for on-campus instruction.

TEA representatives confirmed in an Aug. 27 email to Community Impact Newspaper that the following exceptions can be made:

  • 100% remote instruction provided by a full-time virtual campus operating under the Texas Virtual School Network

  • 100% remote instruction provided due to the prohibition of on-campus instruction “by an order issued by an entity, other than an [local education agency], authorized to issue such an order under state law

  • virtual-only instruction provided when a district closes a campus due to a confirmed COVID-19 case on campus

  • 100% virtual instruction during a start-of-school transition, per TEA:

    • “This period can occur up through the first four weeks of the school year, with the option of extending four additional weeks by vote of the school board. ... During this transition period, LEAs [local education agencies] can, if they choose to do so locally, limit access to on-campus instruction to facilitate a safe, effective return to on-campus instruction for students, teachers, and staff.”

    • This exception denotes students unable to participate in e-learning due to a lack of internet access or device are required to have access to on-campus instruction during this time.

  • virtual instruction for a group of students as part of a high school hybrid plan:

    • “Specifically, for students in grades 9-12, school systems may establish a less-than-daily on campus attendance option to reduce the number of individuals on a campus at any one time and increase the total number of students served in an on-campus setting in the LEA,” the TEA guidelines read.

Addressing digital learning needs

During the 2019-20 academic year, 26,400 students were enrolled at PfISD, according to TEA’s student programs and special populations report. Of the total enrollment, 13,344 students were classified as economically disadvantaged, equivalent to 50.55% of total students.

At the board’s Aug. 20 meeting, district officials reported 15,000 technology devices had been distributed to students for the fall semester. Officials did not provide information as to how many students, if any, still required technology devices or Internet access.

A request for comment from PfISD’s communications department regarding the waiver and technology access has not been answered as of the time of publication.
By Kelsey Thompson
Kelsey Thompson is the reporter for Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto, where her work focuses on education, city government and community development. Originally from Upstate New York, Kelsey relocated to Austin after graduating from Syracuse University in May 2019.


electric grid
ERCOT board developing new emergency response measures, managing financial fallout from winter storm

An emergency meeting of an ERCOT advisory committee made up of independent advisers was convened March 5 after the resignations of several board and of ERCOT CEO Bill Magness. 

Cars wait their turn for a vaccine dose at the Texas Motor Speedway on Feb. 2. The hub was hosted by Denton County Public Health. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Texas doctor discusses first 3 months of vaccine distribution process

Texas is in its 12th week of statewide vaccine distribution, and an expansion of eligibility for vaccination could come later this spring.

For a third consecutive semester, Texas public school districts will not be penalized financially due to declining enrollment and attendance as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, due to an extension of the hold-harmless guarantee, state leaders announced March 4. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas leaders ensure financial stability for public school districts through spring semester with hold-harmless extension

The guarantee also ensures that Texas school systems can retain their teachers for the 2020-21 school year for whom they originally budgeted.

In response to Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that Texas' statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, the Texas Education Agency released updated public health guidance March 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Updated Texas Education Agency guidance allows individual school boards to determine mask policies

"Under this updated guidance, a public school system's current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy," the release reads.

H-E-B will continue to require employees to wear face masks until further notice. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B to require employees, ask customers to be masked despite upcoming expiration of governor's mandate

H-E-B officials announced their employees and vendors would still be required to be masked while on the job, and customers would be encouraged to wear masks while in stores.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.

cars on snowy road
Texas Disaster Declaration opens door to federal aid for losses sustained during winter storms

Individuals and businesses who sustained losses during the winter storm are eligible for federal assistance, according to a Texas Disaster Declaration approved

ERCOT president and chief executive Bill Magness (left) was joined by the electric grid manager's senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin on Feb. 19 for a briefing on the company's emergency operations. (Screenshot via ERCOT livestream)
ERCOT chief: 'We are completely back to normal operations' as of Feb. 19

Officials with the Texas electric grid manager also said they are preparing for state and federal reviews of this week's power outages.

H-E-B stores across Texas have limited store hours and placed purchase limits on some high-demand products due to ongoing severe winter weather, H-E-B officials announced Feb. 19. (Courtesy H-E-B)
H-E-B, Central Market limit store hours, product purchases due to severe winter weather

H-E-B stores across Texas have limited store hours and placed purchase limits on some high-demand products due to ongoing severe winter weather, H-E-B officials announced Feb. 19.

Gov. Greg Abbott provided updates on the state's emergency response efforts during a Feb. 18 press conference. (Screenshot of April 17 press conference)
Gov. Greg Abbott: Power restored to nearly 2M homes in past day; statewide aid efforts continuing

While power generation has been restored to serve most Texas residents, Abbott said state agencies remain focused on water and food distribution Feb. 18.