Dear Austin ISD Community,

As we prepare to provide parents the option of face-to-face instruction on Monday, Oct. 5, I first want to thank everyone for a successful virtual launch of the 2020-21 school year. Even though virtual instruction has challenges, our community has gone above and beyond in providing instruction and support for our students.

I appreciate the correspondence and the inquiries that I have received for a waiver to extend the opportunity to remain in a virtual capacity for an additional four weeks. The waiver Request to Extend the Start of the 2020-2021 School Year Transition Beyond the Four-Week Limit is necessary for our district to implement a phased-in approach as recommended by Austin Public Health so as to allow only students who choose to return (up to 25% of the campus capacity in two-week increments). The waiver in no way allows for a continuation of a 100% virtual setting. Therefore, I will be submitting the waiver to reflect the following:

According to Austin Public Health, when in Stage 3, the district is encouraged to open up with up to 50 percent capacity. However, out of an abundance of caution, we will open on Oct. 5 with only up to 25 percent building capacity and remain for two weeks. During this time, we will closely monitor the number of COVID-19 positive cases that are reported in the district among students and staff. We would then anticipate expanding our capacity to 50 percent on Monday, October 19 for two weeks.

I have been communicating with Austin-Travis County Interim Medical Director and Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. He has affirmed the decision to open at 25 percent as an appropriate first step to opening for in-person learning. I’ve also communicated with our neighboring districts who have already been open for in-person instruction and they have not experienced increased reporting in COVID-19 positive cases.

Please keep in mind that on Oct. 5, the decision for students to return to face-to-face instruction will remain with parents. We will continue to provide instruction virtually for students who remain at home.

I am confident that together we will successfully return to in-person learning. By providing our students with a variety of needs, the option to have face-to-face instruction, we are offering parents choice. This decision reflects our shared commitment to best practices and supporting our students and families. We are #AISDProud.

For Austin ISD’s approach to the phase-in period, see here.

Stephanie S. Elizalde