You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

More Austin-area students returning to classrooms

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 9/3/2020 Melissa B. Taboada
a group of people standing on the side of a road: Dahlstrom Middle School engineering teacher Aaron Higdon decorates his car with a Lego man for a back-to-school parade Wednesday as the Hays school district prepares for its first virtual day of school next Tuesday. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN] © Jay Janner Dahlstrom Middle School engineering teacher Aaron Higdon decorates his car with a Lego man for a back-to-school parade Wednesday as the Hays school district prepares for its first virtual day of school next Tuesday. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Some Austin-area students will be back in the classroom after Labor Day under plans to gradually reopen school buildings as coronavirus cases continue to decline in the area.

The Round Rock, Leander and Lake Travis school districts, which began the school year with online instruction in August, will begin welcoming students back to campuses next week. The Pflugerville school district, which also opened online classes last month, will start limited in-person learning beginning Sept. 14. The districts are giving priority to special education and other high-needs students. Each also is offering online alternatives for students who wish to continue to take classes remotely.

The small districts of Thrall and Wimberley, each on the edges of the metro area, already have opened in-person classes. The larger districts' plans will significantly boost the number of area students learning on campus, as administrators seek to gradually reopen classrooms safely even as the area's positivity rates — the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 among those tested — remain higher than the 5% threshold that medical experts say is considered safe for returning to classrooms. The weekly average positivity rate Wednesday in Travis County was 6.2%. In Williamson County, it was 5.8%.

a woman in a pink shirt: Dahlstrom Middle School principal Dedrah Ginn, left, and instructional coach Kristin Seibel get ready for the start of a back-to-school parade on Wednesday. School begins next week in the district. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN] © Jay Janner Dahlstrom Middle School principal Dedrah Ginn, left, and instructional coach Kristin Seibel get ready for the start of a back-to-school parade on Wednesday. School begins next week in the district. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Districts can only offer online-only instruction for the first four weeks of the school year before reopening school buildings for the gradual return of students, or the districts risk losing state funding.

State leaders last month said local health authorities couldn't preemptively close school buildings, as the interim health authority had done in Travis County until after Labor Day. Such decisions should be left to individual districts, the officials said, but, even then, districts couldn't choose to exclusively offer remote learning for long.

The fluid reopening plans and changing guidelines have rankled educators who have been trying to hammer out back-to-school plans, as well as some families who have been anxious to send their children back to school or who have no alternatives for child care.

Phased reopening

In the Lake Travis district, in-person learning initially is open to special education students, children of employees, elementary students and sixth and ninth graders. All other grade levels may return to campuses Sept. 21.

The Leander district will roll out its plan in four phases. Starting Tuesday through Sept. 18, the district will offer in-person learning to children in special education; prekindergarten; first, sixth and ninth grades; and children of staff members. More grade levels then will be added each week through Oct. 5, until all students who wish to return to classrooms are back in school.

In Pflugerville, students who opt for in-person learning would come back to school beginning Sept. 14, but campuses would be limited to 25% capacity. District leaders said they will assess public health conditions the week of Sept. 28 before determining whether to increase capacity.

The Round Rock district will begin Sept. 10 teaching special education students in self-contained classrooms, and other students who wish to learn in person can do so starting Sept. 15. Superintendent Steve Flores said the district's phase-in plan is contingent on health conditions.

Austin, Hays

The Austin and Hays school districts are starting school Tuesday online. Teachers, some of whom will instruct from home and others in the classroom, will offer virtual lessons.

The vast majority of Hays students will learn from home, though about 10% of the district's students without internet access or child care at home, will come on campuses and learn virtually from there. They will be spread out in cafeterias or other large places.

"Some indicated they had no other option but to send their kids in person," Hays district spokesman Tim Savoy said. "It's an option for parents who both work or the family has no access to technology."

While the Austin district has not yet released its plans in full, campuses largely will remain closed to students during the first few weeks of school, with students returning to campuses beginning Oct. 6. The district is discouraging students from turning up on campuses prior to that time and has been working to secure laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots to ensure all students have access to their virtual classrooms.

Austin Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde has said she will closely monitor the reopening plans in neighboring school districts.

"We must think of reopening our schools as turning the dimmer switch, rather than turning the switch on and off. We want to use phases as we come back to our schools," Elizalde told school board members in a recent update.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Austin American-Statesmen

Austin American-Statesman
Austin American-Statesman
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon