86% of Round Rock ISD high schoolers choose to continue learning from home

Superintendent Steve Flores said the district will allow increased mobility on middle and high school campuses beginning Oct. 19.
Superintendent Steve Flores said the district will allow increased mobility on middle and high school campuses beginning Oct. 19.

Superintendent Steve Flores said the district will allow increased mobility on middle and high school campuses beginning Oct. 19.

On Monday, Oct. 19, teachers at Westwood High School will welcome 210 students to campus. Out of a total enrollment of 3,072, only 7% of Westwood students opted to return in person for the remainder of the fall semester.

Districtwide, the percentage of students choosing to learn in person vary from Westwood at 7% to Deep Wood Elementary School at 66%, according to a staff presentation to the Round Rock ISD board of trustees Oct. 15. Across the district’s five comprehensive high schools, 86% of students chose to continue learning from home.

During public comment, two RRISD parents spoke about their desires for the district to return to a more normal in-person setting as quickly as possible. Both emphasized they felt the district was not doing enough to meet students' needs.

Meanwhile teachers, including Michelle Silvestry, a RRISD middle school educator, expressed concerns over social distancing at schools with higher concentrations of students expected to return next week.

“Are some teachers and students who are in lower enrollment classes going to be safer than students and staff in higher enrollment classes?” Silvestry asked the board.

The start of the second grading period aligns with RRISD’s fourth phase of reopening schools. After a three-week all-virtual start to the semester, students who selected in-person learning returned to campus Sept. 15. However, most movement was restricted—for example, middle and high school students did not change classes or move freely through the hallways.

“We took a cautious approach, much to the frustration of a lot of people who wanted us to go back to regular school and regular classes right away and to the dismay of other people who thought we were moving too fast,” said Daniel Presley, senior chief of schools and innovation.

Beginning Oct. 19, students will be allowed to move more freely on campus, in some cases changing classrooms and passing through the hallways with fewer restrictions.

“We will begin to allow for a little bit more mobility on our secondary campuses,” Superintendent Steve Flores said. “We’re going to be cautious and we’re going to be measured as we do that.”

On most campuses, students will remain in assigned groups, Presley said. Opportunities to attend career and technical classes, fine arts and other extracurriculars will be increased, he said.

“The target is Nov. 9 to go back to pretty much normal,” Presley said. “But there will be some campuses that may be pretty much normal on Oct. 19. It may look very different from one high school, one middle school to another.”

Elementary routines have been affected the least in terms of the traditional setting, Presley said, because elementary students in normal times are typically contained in one classroom for most of the day, except for classes such as physical education and library.

Benjamin Sterling, a RRISD educator, said he fears a loosening of restrictions will lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

“Reopening of schools has created the greatest potential means of transmission yet,” Sterling said. “How does the board justify putting our students and staff—all their families—and ultimately the entire community in danger?”

RRISD recently released additional guidance for parents and families to understand district health protocols. The district maintains a COVID-19 dashboard that is updated weekly.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify speakers during the meeting.
By Taylor Jackson Buchanan
Taylor Buchanan joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 after completing a master of journalism degree from the University of Texas. She worked as the senior reporter for Community Impact's Southwest Austin edition and is now the editor for the company's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition.