Floor decals remind students to practice social distancing at an AISD school (Courtesy of Austin ISD)
The school year is over and thousands of Austin ISD the students celebrated – in person – the end of their K-12 years at graduation last week. Now with another huge influx of pandemic relief money owed any day, the district looks to fall and a new school year that may not include distance learning.
As COVID-19[female[feminine As the number of cases fell and vaccination rates rose in Austin, AISD was able to hold in-person debut ceremonies for the first time since the start of the pandemic, awarding physical diplomas to graduates who have passed their three last semesters of Zoom school to obtain their diplomas. Perhaps the most appropriate was the Anderson High graduation ceremony, when a thunderstorm cut the power to the ceremony at Delco Center. The outgoing Trojans ended with the help of a megaphone and the halogen glow of phone flashlights wielded by their families as they walked across the stage.
The ceremonies were the biggest in-person events that AISD has hosted in over a year. As planning for this fall begins, the district has yet to decide that all classes should be on campus by August – a complicated question last week when House Bill 1468 did not pass the Texas Senate before the end of the legislative session on May 31.
HB 1468, victim of the deadlock Sunday evening in the Senate after the Democratic walkout to thwart “electoral integrity” Senate Bill 7 in the Texas House, would have guaranteed school districts full funding for virtual education this fall. Its failure means that, unless the education commissioner Mike Morath grants a waiver, school districts must pay to set up an expensive virtual learning program or abandon the option altogether. To complicate matters, schools will not be able to mandate masks this fall, as decreed by decree of Gov. Greg Abbott.
These facts worry parents, including Meghen Hiller, whose three children are all medically fragile and too young to be vaccinated. “We’ve already spent a lot of time in children’s hospitals over the years… and COVID was just terrifying,” she said. Unless the vaccine is soon extended to children under 12, Hiller said, if masking and distancing is not possible, his children should attend a virtual school outside the district until they are can be vaccinated.
AISD has yet to decide that all classes should be on campus by August – a complicated question when HB 1468 failed to pass the Texas Senate.
Throughout last spring, AISD, which advocated for HB 1468 at La Lege, planned to make virtual education available for the 2021-22 school year. The district said it is still working on the implications of the bill’s failure and has yet to make an announcement on its plans for this fall. (The moment of special sessions – at least two, according to Abbott – to which the bill could be revived is not yet determined.)
Other neighborhoods made the call: Hays Consolidated ISD and ISD Round Rock will not be offering virtual learning in the fall, both citing the failure of HB 1468. However, Dallas ISD announced that it will offer a “Hybrid Virtual Academy” this fall, to be paid for with local revenues if needed.
Such a large commitment could be difficult for AISD, which already faces a deficit in next year’s budget. However, more than $ 155 million in ESSER III (Emergency relief for elementary and secondary schools) money from American Rescue Plan Act will soon arrive in Austin, which could support virtual learning or many other things, thanks to new federal guidelines that have thwarted Abbott and the Texas Education Agencyattempts at micromanagement. The district is currently collecting feedback from the community on top pandemic response priorities through a survey, looking for short-term ways to spend the funds, as needed, over the next three years. Options range from improved campus ventilation systems, parent awareness, and additional enrichment opportunities. One of the options is “blended learning,” which would add online components to classroom learning.
Additionally, TEA recently announced that $ 5 billion ESSER II funds from the CARES Law, which the agency had clung to, will soon be moving to local districts, including $ 69 million for AISD. However, TEA said it would use a portion of those funds to meet allocations for districts that were to use the agency’s “safety hold” policies when their average daily attendance plummeted during the pandemic. This includes AISD, which has lost thousands of students representing millions of dollars in public funding and has been saved from financial collapse by politics. Now he could see a lot less of his ESSER II funds, although TEA will not release the final sums until September. Although the Zoom school year is over, AISD can be stuck muted in the AME waiting room for months.