As scheduled, Austin ISD will start virtual learning Sept. 8, with Oct. 5 as the earliest day for possible in-person instruction for the upcoming 2020-21 school year.
During the first two weeks of class, campuses will be limited to 25% capacity, with the expectation teachers and staff would make up the campus’s population during that time, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said at a board meeting Aug. 24.
While not required, district teachers would be encouraged to teach virtually from their classrooms in September while campuses remain closed to students. If the first two weeks of classes at 25% capacity go well, capacity limits could be eased in preparation for students in October, she said.
"We must think of reopening our schools as turning the dimmer switch, rather than turning the [light] switch on and off,” Elizalde said. “We want to use phases as we come back to our schools."
The district has worked over the summer to distribute technology to those who need it. Elizalde said the district is connecting with each family ahead of the start of school to anticipate the remaining technology needs. Families who have not already received a call from the district should expect one this week, according to the district, and technology pickup times have been set at individual campuses.
The district would be required to offer in-person instruction to a student if a device could not be provided. However, she said if a student shows up to school on the first day, the district’s expectation at this time would be to provide them with technology and connectivity, not in-person services.
Elizalde asked parents not to send students to campus for classes in September while virtual learning is underway. While she said the district would never turn a child away, they would highly discourage a student from being on campus and would have to call a parent or guardian to pick them up.
“[If students showed up] there would be no way for us to know whether we’re going to have the appropriate number of adults to supervise our children,” she said. “If you ask principals and teachers what's keeping them up at night, after taking care of their families and after taking care of themselves, their biggest concern is children showing up on campuses without adult supervision.”
Elizalde said it is “absolutely” the district’s intent to have students remain remote through September with in-person instruction phased in beginning in October.
“I know the sacrifices [families are] having to make, and I am asking them to please continue to make them,” she said. “It is important to me that we work collectively to ensure that when we start, we can stay open, and that's going to require all of us to have to, unfortunately, make some sacrifices that I know are very difficult for our families.”
Austin ISD teachers will be encouraged to teach from the classroom as students learn virtually in September
Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde presents back-to-school plans at a meeting Aug. 24. (Screenshot courtesy Austin ISD)