Austin ISD officially delays start of school year until Sept. 8

Austin ISD trustees approved a new school calendar Aug. 7, delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 8. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD trustees approved a new school calendar Aug. 7, delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 8. (Courtesy Austin ISD)

Austin ISD trustees approved a new school calendar Aug. 7, delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 8. (Courtesy Austin ISD)

Students in Austin ISD will begin the 2020-21 school year Sept. 8, followed by at least four weeks of virtual, remote learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

AISD trustees approved an amended calendar at a special meeting just after 3:15 a.m. Aug. 7, delaying the original start of school by three weeks. According to the new calendar, the final day of the school year will be June 3, 2021; the school day would be lengthened by 10-11 minutes; and holidays as outlined in the previous calendar will be unchanged.

Trustees also approved a Texas Education Agency waiver, which allows an additional four weeks of virtual learning to start the year, or eight weeks total. Under the waiver, virtual classes could run from Sept. 8 through the first week of November, although Superintendent Paul Cruz said the goal is to use the second four-week period to phase in-person classes back into the district.

Director of Elementary Schools Monica Gonzalez said delaying the start to the school year will allow time for local health conditions to improve and will give staff and teachers more time to prepare for a safe reopening. Additionally, the district would have more time to distribute technology to students who have not yet received computers for virtual learning.

Gonzalez said that over the first four weeks of school, while learning will all be done virtually, students without access to technology may request access to on-campus amenities.

Prior to the board vote, about 300 teachers and parents weighed in through public communication. Most individuals asked trustees to delay the start of school due to the safety concerns or to give teachers more time to prepare.

"Please consider adding more time for virtual learning for families, students, teachers and all of the support staff,” parent Tiffany Johnson said. “Every teacher that I know personally is not prepared for online learning; the constant changes of plan and decisions is a lot for them; it's a lot for the people supporting them in their everyday lives; and the best thing that we can do for our families would be to delay the start of school as proposed. We will not get past this if we are putting all of our students in the same classroom every single day. This pandemic is really not going anywhere.”

Teachers, too, expressed concerns about reopening too soon to in-person teaching and asked the district for a "clear plan for a safe reopening."

"I urge you to push back the start date of the school year to Sept. 8 and to start the first eight weeks at least of school online as it is in the best interest of the health and safety of the students, the staff, the school community, the entire Austin community,” said Emily Hersh, a librarian at Navarro Early College High School.

Other parents, however, asked the district to maintain its previous Aug. 18 start day as a way to create structure for students and to help parents by providing a more concrete timeline they can plan around.

Parent Tori Harkins said the district should pursue both in-person and online options allowing teachers who feel comfortable with returning to the classroom to take in-person students.

“There's no reason to keep this going any longer,” she said. “Please, let the kids go back to school. Teachers should be [essential employees] too. There are gas station workers that are [essential employees], come on now.”

Parent Christine Ritter agreed that an in-person option should be offered and said she believes that the COVID-19 pandemic is improving in Travis County. She also said virtual learning would widen the achievement gap, putting those who need additional help at a disadvantage.

“Personally, I feel like my son is falling behind,” she said. “He really hasn't had real instruction since March, and I do feel that this is putting him and economically challenged families or single-parent families that work full time at a disadvantage. I just ask that we reconsider and think about a way that we can do on-campus instruction safely. I think it’s possible, and we have the ability to do that.”

The new calendar was approved as follows:

  • School begins: Sept. 8

  • Thanksgiving: Nov. 23-27

  • Winter Break: Dec. 22-Jan. 1

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Jan. 18

  • Spring break: March 15-19

  • Memorial Day: May 31

  • Last day of class: June 3

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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