AISD News: COVID Delays On-Campus Classes, Supe Search Down to 6

Students will return to virtual learning for the first three weeks at minimum

Following weeks of pressure from parents, teachers, and school staff to reconsider plans to return to in-person schooling amidst a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases – and pressure from a different direction from federal and state officials to open or risk losing funding – the Austin Independent School District announced Tuesday that students will not return to in-person schooling on Aug. 18. Instead, students will start the school year the same way they ended it – via virtual instruction.

"The health and safety of our students and staff are at the forefront of all of our decisions," read a brief statement from AISD. "Even though the first day of school is Aug. 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."

Also on Tuesday, the health authority for Austin-Travis County issued orders forbidding in-person instruction at all public and private schools offering instruction to students in one or more grades, pre-kindergarten through grade 12, and any independent school districts within Austin-Travis County. The order additionally stipulates that extracurricular sports and activities are prohibited until school systems reopen for on-campus instruction, and that schools will need to submit reopening plans to the health authority and make said plans public at least two weeks prior to the planned reopening date.

Teachers union Education Austin celebrated AISD's announcement but pushed for even longer delay. "We are glad the district has delayed the physical re-entry into schools by three weeks, but we believe more needs to be done," read a statement posted to Twitter. "We will continue advocating for a 9-week delay and additional protections for our members and our students." – Kimberley Jones

The AISD Board of Trustees has narrowed down the field in its superintendent search. On Friday, July 10, the board announced that six "diverse" candidates would be interviewed for the position, with interviews beginning this week.

The candidates, whose names were not released, were selected from a pool of 64 applicants based on a leadership profile assembled by JG Consulting. The firm sought input from over 200 organizations and 2,600 people to put the profile together, including two AISD-hosted virtual public forums and an online questionnaire to community members.

The finalists are vying to replace Paul Cruz, who announced in February that he had accepted a position as co-director of the Cooperative Superintendency Pro­gram at UT-Austin's College of Education. Cruz joined AISD in 2006, was promoted to superintendent to replace Meria Carstarphen in 2015, and signed a new three-year contract in 2018. It's unknown whether any of JG Consulting's candidates are internal, as Cruz was, or recruited from out of state, as Carstarphen and her predecessor, Pat Forgione, were. The board in 2015 had initiated a nationwide search but the external candidates all withdrew after Cruz (chief schools officer under Carstarphen and interim superintendent once she left for Atlanta) was allowed to apply for the permanent position, leaving him the sole and widely supported applicant.

The board began interviews, which are closed to the public, on Wednesday, July 15, and plans to announce a finalist by July 27. Should this timeline hold, the new super will begin service on Aug. 17, one day before the school year is set to begin. – Clara Ence Morse

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Austin ISD, virtual learning, Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, JG Consulting, Paul Cruz, Meria Carstarphen

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