Southwest Austin - Dripping Springs Edition | July 2020

EDUCATION Plans for 2020-21 school year muddied by COVID-19 pandemic

According to the Texas Education agency, districts should follow these guidelines for the 2020-21 school year: COVID-19 STATE GUIDELINES

instruction, and teachers will create curricula that can pivot from in-per- son to virtual class settings in case schools need to shut down at any point due to positive COVID-19 cases, according to the district. Virtual instruction will have both synchronous and asynchronous elements, meaning some class activities will take place at fixed times, and others will be self-paced. Virtual learning students will follow the same instruction as in-person students and will be subject to the same grading criteria. Schooling concerns Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said in July he does not think local districts have the infrastructure and plans in place to keep students, teachers and staff protected on campus to start the year. Groups such as Education Aus- tin—AISD’s teachers union—have demanded districts keep classes online until conditions improve. Karen Reyes, an AISD early childhood and special education teacher, said July 8 that teachers would love to be able to return to the classroom and to interact with students, but not until campuses are a safe environment for everyone. Similarly in DSISD, several teachers submitted comments to the board stating that TEA’s initial in-person requirement made them feel unsafe. They implored the board of trustees to let teachers opt to teach virtually from home on an individual basis. “This school year will be my 15th year teaching. I’ve adapted to many changes through the years, as have all my colleagues, but I do not see how there will be time to manage both in person and online learners,”

BY NICHOLAS CICALE

Offer in-person class each day once guidelines allow

for all students in the district and will emphasize teacher-student communication. Assignments will track student progress toward goals, she said, and the district is working to make sure there are resources for reteaching and supporting students who need help as well as provisions for learners with special needs. Regarding device and internet access for students, Bown-Anderson said the district distributed Chrome- books to all students in grades 3-12 this past spring. The district is currently in the process of preparing 24,000 iPads for students in pre-K through second grade, she said. The district is also adding 10,000 Wi-Fi hot spots that will be distrib- uted to families who need them. The district will also rely on its online BLEND management system, which connects parents and students with their teachers. All communi- cations, assignments, grades and feedback will take place through BLEND during remote learning. Dripping Springs aims for flexibility At a July 20 meeting, DSISD Super- intendent Todd Washburn outlined a work-in-progress plan for instruction and school operations for both virtual and in-person learning. DSISD is planning for a five- day-a-week, in-person instruction option—which may begin after the first four weeks of class—in addition to a full-time virtual learning option. Both methods will use the Canvas virtual learning platform to support

District staff in Austin and Dripping Springs ISDs continue to evaluate federal, state and local guidelines regarding education during the coronavirus pandemic as they, and others across the country, plan for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. The Texas Education Agency and Travis County have released numer- ous regulations for local districts to follow aimed at educating students safely. Based in the guidelines, both AISD and DSISD have separately announced that school will begin Aug. 18 as previously scheduled, but in-person classes will not take place right away. “We are in a very difficult time right now—a very challenging time— as we’re dealing with COVID-19 and the impact of COVID-19,” AISD Super- intendent Paul Cruz said July 15. Austin ISD readies tech for teaching According to Cruz, “at-home instruction will not look like it did” when classes initially went virtual due to the pandemic this past spring in AISD. Teachers have been working to create online materials that are more “comprehensive and robust” than what was offered when classes first shifted online this past spring due to the pandemic. Content will be created to be effective for online and in-person instruction. Executive Director of Academics Erin Bown-Anderson said the lessons being designed will be more equitable

Allowparents to opt into online learning

Requiremasks based on state orders

Encourage students to social distance

Open windows in buses and clean after trips

Have sanitizer, hand- washing stations at school entrances

Increase cleaning practices in school

Notify students, teachers and staff of COVID-19 confirmations

Screen staff and visitors for COVID-19

SOURCE: TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY/ COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

DSISD teacher Lucy Martinez wrote. Many parents agreed with Mar- tinez’s sense of caution, but others advocated for a swift start to the school year. “The No. 1 goal should be for this district to make progress, and that cannot be achieved from the comfort of our homes,” resident Thomas Lingle said.

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SOUTHWEST AUSTIN - DRIPPING SPRINGS EDITION • JULY 2020

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