Superintendent Says AISD Will Honor Staff Health Accommodations Through End of Year
Online or in person? AISD readies for "all of the above"
Austin ISD staff who have received health accommodations to work remotely will have those accommodations honored through the end of the calendar year, according to Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde at Monday night's board of trustees meeting. The announcement comes a week before all AISD students who wish to return to campus will be able to go back to in-person classes on Monday, Nov. 2.
Elizalde had previously said that teachers with health accommodations who are at high risk might be required to return to campus if enough students showed up for in-person learning on Nov. 2. However, at Monday's meeting Elizalde stood firm in the district's commitment to honoring approved accommodations. "We know that [revoking accommodations] would create a hardship on our employees, and they expected in faith that we would continue with those throughout this particular calendar year," said Elizalde. Teachers union Education Austin – which has been critical of the district's ongoing response to the pandemic, including its accommodations process – said it was "glad to see the district make the right decision" Monday.
To date, the district has granted 1,201 accommodations – 756 teachers and 445 other staff. Further details on spring semester accommodations requests are expected to be available by Nov. 9, but Elizalde told trustees Monday that the district is creating a Benefits Review Committee that will prioritize accommodations for the next semester. She said the district recognized there were some accommodation requests for this semester that were "far more critical" than others, but they were all given the same priority: "Now, at this time, it makes it very challenging for someone who may be coming with a request, because we now are looking at every campus, and whether that's a hardship on that school or not." The district said it plans to work with Austin Public Health to help determine what areas represent the highest risks for employees.
The limited number of on-campus teaching staff is an obstacle for some schools to navigate as students return to campus in greater, yet still unknown, numbers and request different learning modalities. Starting Nov. 2, middle and high school students will receive more face-to-face instruction, with physical transitions between class periods. Previously, those students took their classes virtually in one classroom, in "pods" under teacher supervision, and parents may request that they continue to do so, adding to teachers' responsibilities.
As of Oct. 22, AISD's elementary school population accounted for the highest percentage of students and teachers attending in person, at 35%, compared to middle school (12%) and high school (8%). Elizalde said district administration will continue to meet with principals and supervisors to develop daily and weekly structures for the return to in- person learning, including exploring using outdoor classroom spaces, but acknowledged no two campuses will look alike as students and teachers return.