The Dripping Springs ISD board of trustees has affirmed plans to restore in-person learning Sept. 14. At an Aug. 24 board meeting, trustees discussed recommendations from the district’s superintendent and a back-to-school task force recommending the September return, and they decided not to pursue an option to extend virtual-only learning by four additional weeks.

Prior to the meeting, district parents and community members rallied outside the DSISD administration building, pushing board members to keep to the plan to return Sept. 14 after discussion regarding the possibility of a virtual extension of four weeks, as allowed by the Texas Education Agency, at the trustees’ agenda review the previous week.

“I am very much in favor of not extending online learning for an extra four weeks. I also believe our students should not be on Zoom calls and doing independent learning on the computer all day whether in class or at home. This is not healthy, and my children’s desire to interact and learn is diminishing with every Zoom call and online assignment,” DSISD parent Leah Bush wrote in a public comment read by trustees during their meeting.

Hundreds more parents, teachers and students submitted public comments, many expressing concern over the experience of virtual learning during the first week of classes, especially for young children and special education students.

“I could see on days one and two that this remote learning 2.0, while definitely more robust than in the spring, is exhausting for students and parents,” wrote Erica Lovchik, a Dripping Springs High School special education teacher. “Some families have been trying to access Zoom and Canvas with no success. Some families have children who will push away technology, and as such, it’s not worth trying. The current schedule is not sustainable.”

Some students receiving special services, such as those in Lovchik’s classes, will be able to return to school as soon as Aug. 31, ahead of the general student population, Superintendent Todd Washburn announced at the meeting.

Other parents also expressed support for an extension of virtual-only learning based on local coronavirus risk. Of the trustees, board President Carrie Kroll was the only one who voiced a preference for extending all-virtual learning.

“I think I’m in the minority of board members in that I would ask to extend [all-virtual learning] for an additional four weeks,” Kroll said. “But I’m not going to ask for a vote if there’s not support for that.”

According to the recommendation from the DSISD COVID-19 task force, district campuses are equipped to welcome students back safely by Sept. 14. However, Washburn’s report on behalf of the task force included a caveat.

“I also want to acknowledge that this recommendation is based on current conditions of the pandemic in our community and schools and could change if the pandemic conditions change,” he wrote. “We recognize the importance of continuing to monitor the health conditions in our community and must be prepared to adapt our plans.”