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Austin ISD plans to bring a small group of students back to schools in October

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 by Claire McInerny, KUT

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When the Austin Independent School District begins phasing students back into school buildings Oct. 5, it will prioritize special education and lower grade levels within each school as the first to return.

At a school board information session Monday night, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said each school will be able to operate at 25 percent of its capacity at first and will move up to 50 percent after a few weeks, when the district can see if Covid-19 cases spiked.

The district sent families a survey last week in which caregivers could indicate whether they wanted to send their students back to campus Oct. 5 or continue virtual learning. The district says families opting for in-person learning can always decide to go back to learning remotely. AISD is still figuring out a procedure for families who decide they want to go from virtual to in-person after Oct. 5.

At elementary schools, Elizalde said, kindergarten and pre-K students will come back first, followed by special education students. After that, the district will consider students with other learning needs and students in bilingual programs.

In middle schools and high schools, sixth- and ninth-graders will get priority for on-campus learning, since they are transitioning to a new school and would benefit most from being in the building, Elizalde said. But students who return to middle and high schools should not expect school to function as it did before the pandemic. Instead of moving from class to class, students will stay in one room all day, attending their classes and completing assignments online.

“We also want to ensure that we can effectively do contact tracing,” Elizalde said. “The more you look at what is required of contact tracing, it is just not even reasonable to have students going to six (or) four different classrooms.”

Elizalde told the board the district will be flexible with its plans. For example, if one school has a lot of interest for students to come back and another doesn’t meet the capacity threshold, she would consider sending students to a different school, if a family wants to do that.

Pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-olds will begin Oct. 5 as well. Elizalde hopes the start of these programs will help boost enrollment so the district doesn’t lose too much state funding. She said 3,400 fewer students enrolled in the district this year than expected.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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