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Newswest 9 | Midland, Texas | newswest9.com

Round Rock, Austin ISD among local districts suspending first three weeks of in-person classes

Local districts are asking the TEA to suspend in-person learning until COVID-19 cases decrease.

ROUND ROCK, Texas — On Monday afternoon at Round Rock ISD's board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Steve Flores said school will be 100% virtual for the first three weeks of the year and stated the school district wants to reopen schools when it feels comfortable to do so. 

Unless the Texas Education Agency changes its guidelines, Flores said schools will open for in-person classes on Sept. 11.

On Tuesday, Austin ISD also released a statement saying it too would be suspending in-person instruction for the first three weeks:

"The health and safety of our students and staff are at the forefront of all of our decisions. Even though the first day of school is August 18, we know that our teachers and staff need to report to school weeks before that date. Given our public health conditions in Travis County, Austin ISD will suspend in-person education and deliver virtual instruction for the first three weeks of the 2020-21 school year. We will continue to look to federal, state and local authorities for guidance and directives. Additional information is forthcoming."

On Tuesday night, Travis County's health authority issued an emergency order delaying on-campus reopening for all county schools until Sept. 7. Eanes ISD confirmed it will offer 110% remote learning the first three weeks of school.

RELATED: Travis County health authority orders schools to delay on-campus openings

The TEA confirmed schools will not lose state funding if local health authorities mandate online-only learning.

RELATED: Texas classrooms can stay closed this fall without losing state funding if local health officials order it

Also on Tuesday, Leander ISD said it was "strongly leaning toward" three weeks of online learning as well.

"We will be taking that to our board of trustees on Thursday night to have a conversation with them about what that looks like," said Superintendent Bruce Gearing. "We will be making formal announcements about that only on Friday. So that is still tentative at this point in time."

The RRISD Board of Trustees is asking the TEA to not have in-person learning this fall until the seven-day average hospitalization rate is five or less, which is the threshold set by Austin Public Health for Stage 2 response. The Leander ISD Board of Trustees and superintendent, as well as Eanes ISD, also sent a letter to the state with similar requests on Monday afternoon. 

In the letter to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, RRISD Superintendent Dr. Steve Flores and Board of Trustees President Amy Weir ask for the following:

  1. Suspend in-person school until the seven-day average hospitalization rate is five or less, the threshold set by the Austin-Travis County public health agency for a Stage 2 response.
  2. Provide additional funding to supplement costs incurred by districts to provide safe and effective learning, specifically by appropriating CARES ACT funding directly to districts rather than supplanting state funding with this federal infusion meant to support pandemic efforts.
  3. Suspect the STAAR and the A-F grading system for the 2020-2021 school year

RELATED: Austin ISD teachers feel like school district is 'gambling with their lives' with in-person class plans

Many teachers KVUE spoke with said they hoped they would be able to start the year teaching from home to keep everybody safe. 

"I don't want anybody to think that the frustration and the tension is unwarranted. I mean, these are really important conversations that are being had," said Tiffanie Harrison, a RRISD high school teacher and co-chair for the RRISD equity task force. "This is a traumatic experience. I would like to believe that everyone is doing the best that they can. It was jarring to be out of our classrooms for in-person instruction in the spring and to be away from our students."

RRISD officials said their detailed plan for the fall with logistics is expected to be released on Friday. 

In an email to employees on Friday, Flores said in part, "Personally, I was disappointed when TEA announced that schools must provide daily, on-campus attendance for students who follow required public health protocols and whose parents wish them to learn on campus each day. The TEA announcement fails to acknowledge our current situation and the ever-changing status of our current public health crisis. Districts across the state and country are working together, sharing ideas and banding together, to advocate for public education and to make decisions in the best interest of our students and our staff members. We will continue to make our case to the Texas Education Agency and state lawmakers."

RELATED: Texas nurses urge schools to include school nurses in COVID-19 planning

"We have a really strong, intuitive sense that this is not the time to go by our health and our lives or we feel threatened," said Dan Wright, Education Round Rock president and an RRISD teacher. 

Education Round Rock filed a petition asking for a couple weeks of online learning before returning to classrooms. Wright said they're working with other teacher unions, like Education Austin, to get a unified message to school districts and the state. 

"It is not morally right for the district to ask us to go back to work. It's just not, plain and simple," said Wright.

In Leander ISD's letter to the state, it said TEA's announcement conflicts with the work their teams have been doing over the past month to keep students six feet apart when they launch learning for the 2020-21 school year. 

"There's no doubt about that. Our students would be at risk," said Gearing. "We have to protect them. That is our duty and our obligation."

Leander ISD leaders stated that the guidelines don't provide local school districts the flexibility to make decisions based on local data or community and staff values and expectations. LISD claims TEA's guidelines remove the ability of local school officials to fully address teacher well-being, including space limitations due to social distancing requirements.

An excerpt from the LISD letter reads:

"As a state-regulated institution, we will continue to operate within the guidelines set by TEA and Governor Greg Abbott, taking every precaution available to us to operate schools safely and effectively. However, we strongly advocate for the following items: 

  • suspension of in-person school and allowance for 100% virtual learning until the seven-day hospitalization average is five or less, the threshold set by the Austin-Travis County public health agency for a stage 2 response;  
  • flexibility to realistically minimize classroom ratios and provide social distancing; 
  • the suspension of STAAR and the A-F system for the 2020-21 school year;  
  • additional funding to supplement costs incurred by districts to provide safe and effective learning; and 
  • a commitment to allocate current or future federal money specified for schools as a supplement to existing funding commitments by the state."

It also states:

"We want to be with our kids, full time, and in our classrooms. We want to support our families with regular schedules and the full complement of high-quality services our community deserves. We cannot jeopardize the health of our teachers in doing so."

Eanes ISD made the same requests in its letter.

KVUE reached out to the TEA for comment, but it could not be reached.

To read the LISD letter, click here. To read the RRISD letter, click here.

Last week, the Texas Urban Council of Superintendents and Texas School Alliance also sent a letter to the governor, which Austin ISD was a part of, with a number of requests including:

  • Directing the commissioner of education to waive student attendance accounting requirements the 2020-2021 school year to ensure school districts receive funding for students who are learning at home due to school closures.
  • Setting a floor for average daily attendance (ADA) for next year.
  • Allowing school districts the flexibility to design instructional systems that meet the needs of families and staff given local health conditions.

That letter can be read here.

Pflugerville ISD also released a letter on Tuesday. It can be read here.

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