Austin ISD says online learning will 'not look like it did' this spring

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz
Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz gave an update about virtual learning in a video July 15. (Courtesy Austin ISD)

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz gave an update about virtual learning in a video July 15. (Courtesy Austin ISD)

In the district’s latest Summer Vision newsletter, which was released July 16, Austin ISD said district staff are continuing to evaluate federal, state and local guidelines and requirements regarding education during the coronavirus pandemic as they plan for the upcoming 2020-21 school year.

Earlier this week, the district announced that although school will begin Aug. 18, classes will be held virtually for at least the first three weeks of the year. In-person classes could start Sept. 8 at the earliest.

“We are in a very difficult time right now—a very challenging time—as we’re dealing with COVID-19 and the impact of COVID-19,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said in a video update July 15. “We still will begin classes Aug. 18, but all classes will be 100% virtual for the first three weeks.”

The newsletter states that “at-home instruction will not look like it did in March, April and May.” The district said teachers have been working to create online materials that are more “comprehensive and robust" than what was offered when classes first shifted online this past spring due to the pandemic. Content will be created to be effective for online or in-person instruction.

In the video update, Executive Director of Academics Erin Bown-Anderson said the lessons being designed will be more equitable for all students in the district and will emphasize teacher-student communication. Assignments will track student progress towards goals, she said, and the district is working to make sure there are resources for reteaching and supporting students who need help as well as provisions for learners with special needs.

Bown-Anderson said some of the biggest questions the district has received are regarding device and internet access for students. This past spring, the district distributed Chromebooks to all students in grades 3-12. The district is currently in the process of acquiring and preparing 24,000 iPads for students in pre-K through second grade, she said. The district is also adding 10,000 Wi-Fi hot spots that will be distributed to families who do not currently have internet service.

The district will also rely heavily on its online BLEND management system, which connects parents and students with their teachers. All communications, assignments, grades and feedback will take place through BLEND during remote learning.

“I know there is a lot of uncertainty right now about who will be face-to-face in our schools and at what point teachers will be back in classrooms with students,” Bown-Anderson said in the video update. “Austin ISD will follow the health guidance of local, state and federal officials in order to make the best decisions to keep our student and families safe.”
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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