The Austin Chronicle

Public Notice: Heads Up, Pandemic Parents:

Do You Want a Public School to Come Back To?

By Nick Barbaro, August 7, 2020, News

Just a quick note to all you public school parents who are busy setting up "learning pods" or searching for tutors or otherwise thinking you'll just hold your kids out of school until it's safe to return. If you want to have a public school to come back to, do make sure your kids show up online for your school's minimum daily attendance requirements, and do keep your child enrolled.

Here's why: Under state law, school funding and teacher staffing ratios are based on attendance and enrollment. For every day your kid's counted absent (yes, for any reason), your school loses funding – the more kids absent, the greater the funding loss. Similarly, the number of teachers your school gets depends on the number of kids enrolled. So any significant drop in either attendance or enrollment means your favorite teachers, programs, or electives may well be gone by the time you come back. Also remember that big drops in enrollment, especially if geographically concentrated, could potentially lead to more school closures. Basically, if you want to maintain Austin's public schools for you and everyone else in town (including the many families without your advantages), your kids need to show up either virtually or in person.

So by all means, take advantage of your district's remote learning options – just be sure you (or your tutors or your pods) are using the district's teacher-led instruction to meet the minimum daily requirements for attendance, and please don't unenroll. Yes, the attendance part may be a bit of a hassle, but if you want a public school to come back to, you need to do it. Questions? Ask your school principal for details when she's not setting her hair on fire.

If you're wondering who to be mad at, look to the geniuses at the Texas Education Agency, who've apparently never set foot in an actual classroom and, hello, don't believe the pandemic is really all that bad. Per the latest TEA rules (and pursuant to A.G. Ken Pax­ton's recent execrable opinion), local health authorities aren't allowed to order schools closed. And even with confirmed cases of COVID-19, current TEA rules state that a campus is only allowed to shut down for five days max.

The TEA did recently announce it's implementing a "hold harmless" provision for attendance (read: funding) for the first two six-week attendance periods, based on a three-year average, which may buy a little breathing room. Still, some of the other answers on the agency's 30-plus pages of FAQs are unsettling, to say the least.

You can read the full batch of crazy yourself at, but I'll just close with one sample:

"Q: How are high school teachers supposed to track daily student engagement as required for asynchronous instruction when they have 150+ students every day?

"A: [An] option is to have one teacher track engagement for a smaller group of students each day, such as a homeroom/advisory teacher who calls the students and checks in on their progress across assignments/courses, ensuring students have made progress in each course each day. That 'homeroom teacher' could also make sure students go to the weekly office hours/synchronous lesson/small group tutoring session for each of their courses where they need help."

So this mythical homeroom teacher who's already teaching her own full-time course load, both in-person and remotely, for 150 high schoolers is also supposed to physically call at least 28 students each day? Assum­ing she has working phone numbers for all students, and assuming they all answer on the first try, and assuming a brief five-minute check-in per student (let's hope none of them are truly struggling either emotionally or academically), that's an extra two hours and 20 minutes per day per teacher on top of full-time remote and in-person teaching (yes, the TEA's still requiring in-person teaching at all schools), not to mention class prep, creating assignments and tests, reading and grading all student work, certifying attendance, and oh yeah, inputting daily assessments for each kid's remote learning into a new Student Information System – times 150!

Given all that, maybe TEA Commissioner Mike Morath could at least pitch in on a few of those phone calls?

Meet the Super! A virtual meet and greet with the presumptive AISD superintendent, Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, who will answer questions texted by the public during the meeting. 6pm, Spanish; 7:30pm, English; broadcast live on and cable channel 22.

Parents: This year's sales tax holiday on clothes, backpacks, and school supplies is Fri.-Sun., Aug. 7-9; see the Texas Comptroller's website for details:

Kids: Last chance to get in on the Austin Humane Society's (virtual) Teddy Bear Surgery, 1-4pm Satur­day, Aug. 8. Bring your own stuffed animal (in need of a little love and care) to a virtual vet appointment; reserve at

This Saturday, Aug. 8, is the 50th Anniversary of the Armadillo World Headquarters opening, and also the day of Threadgill's final auction sale: tons (literally) of Armadillo memorabilia, vintage Texas bar fixtures, neon signs, and more. It'll be a live auction at 10am on location at Threadgill's Old No. 1, 6416 N. Lamar, with internet and phone bidding available and online bidding already well underway; see the 500-piece catalog at for full info. (tractor #65)

Preservation Austin's 28th Annual Homes Tour, "Downtown Doorsteps," is virtual this year, a 45-minute-long video tour of Downtown Austin's historic living spaces premiering Thursday, Aug. 13, at 7pm. $20 tickets at

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