The Austin Chronicle

AISD Decides: Back-to-School Means On Campus, In Person, No Virtual Learning

By Clara Ence Morse, June 18, 2021, 1:30pm, Newsdesk

When summer vacation ends and Austin ISD students go back to school, they will indeed return "to" school, on campus, for in-person classroom instruction. The district announced today, June 18, it will not offer a virtual learning option this fall.

The decision came amidst ongoing uncertainty over Texas schools' ability to receive full state funding for virtual instruction. “The district had been weighing its options after the failure of House Bill 1468, which would have allowed some virtual learning,” AISD leaders wrote in the district's announcement. “However, with cases continuing to decline in Austin/Travis County and across the country, AISD officials decided conditions will be safe enough for all students to return in August.”

Austin and other ISDs spent much of the spring advocating for HB 1468, which would have ensured that school districts receive funding for students who took remote classes. However, the bill failed to pass the Texas Senate on the last day of the session, in the aftermath of House Democrats' walkout to break quorum and prematurely end the session to prevent Senate Bill 7, the controversial “election integrity” measure, from passing. The failure of HB 1468, which ultimately rests on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, means that unless Education Commissioner Mike Morath granted a waiver, districts would receive no funding for student attendance in virtual classes.

Some districts, including Dallas ISD, have individually announced plans to dip into their own funds to continue virtual instruction, but other large Central Texas districts had preceded AISD in ruling out virtual learning for the fall. Yesterday, dozens of districts wrote a letter encouraging Gov. Greg Abbott to add virtual learning legislation to the call for an upcoming special session. “To be clear, the vast majority of students are better suited to an in-person environment, but there are thousands of students across the state of Texas who thrive in a virtual environment,” the letter read.

Although mask mandates in schools won’t be allowed, thanks to an Abbott executive order, AISD will be “strongly encouraging” the unvaccinated to mask on campus. With increasing vaccination rates — including an expected rollout of vaccines to children under 12 this fall — and compliance with health guidelines, Chief of Schools Anthony Mays said, “we’re confident we can safely reopen to all our students.”

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