Austin-Travis Co. Health order: No in-person school until after Sept. 7 No sports, band, etc. until on-campus

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

New orders this week from the Austin-Travis County Health Authority are changing the way all schools will start the 2020-21 school year, both public and private. As of July 14, schools cannot start in-person instruction or extracurricular activities including volleyball, football and band until after Labor Day, Sept. 7. Although Leander ISD will still start school on August 13, the new order is a shift from LISD’s plans last week to go 100 % online or 100% in-person.

“In a quickly changing educational environment… we are constantly planning for multiple scenarios that may present themselves,” said Matt Mitchell, LISD communications coordinator. “We are expecting and preparing for the first several weeks to be all-virtual (according to TEA guidelines).” 

On July 14, the Health Authority for Austin-Travis County adopted orders that promote the health and safety of Austin-Travis County residents in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

The following restrictions are effective from July 14 and expire Nov. 12:

  • School systems shall not re-open schools for on-campus, face-to-face instruction until after September 7, 2020;
  • Virtual instruction shall be permitted as per a school system’s own plan;
  • Extracurricular sports and activities shall not take place until school systems re-open for on-campus instruction;
  • At least two weeks prior to re-opening for on-campus instruction and on-campus activities, the school or district shall develop a plan to be submitted to the Austin/Travis County Health Authority for re-opening on-campus activities and instruction and make the plan available for parents and general public.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, announced the new orders for all public and private schools offering instruction to students pre-kindergarten through grade 12 

“The big challenge is maintaining operations when people get sick, especially when faculty and staff get sick as we see every year with influenza,” said Escott. “Imagine that COVID-19 is twice as contagious as the flu. There would be a large impact on the continuity in individual schools primarily providing in-class education.” 

Some of the new mandates from Austin-Travis County Health Authority are in line with what LISD was working on earlier this week.

On Monday, Leander ISD shared a letter with state education and political leaders requesting that LISD be allowed to suspend in-person instruction and begin the school year with 100% online instruction for all K-12 students.

According to the letter, LISD would reopen the schools once the weekly hospitalization rate for coronavirus is five patients or less. That is the acceptable rate for a Stage 2 opening set by the Austin-Travis County public health agency.

In addition to 100% online learning to start the school year, LISD is also requesting the suspension of STAAR testing and the A-F letter-grade system for the 2020-21 school year. The letter also requests flexibility to realistically minimize classroom ratios and provide social distancing.

The LISD Board of Trustees and superintendent sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, the chairmen of the state’s public education committees, and the elected state representatives for the district. 

The district is also asking for additional funding to supplement costs incurred to provide safe and effective learning. 

State education funding was one reason behind the leader. Last week, Texas Education Agency released an order requiring schools to open their buildings to in-person instruction five days a week for all students who want it. The order gives districts a transition period of just three weeks at the start of the year to hold classes virtually and get their safety plans in place before allowing students back on campuses. After the three-week transition, districts that stay entirely virtual would risk losing funding, according to the Texas Tribune.

But TEA officials confirmed Wednesday they would continue to fund school districts if local health officials order them to stay closed, as long as they offer remote instruction for all students.

All across LISD, the new orders affect athletic camps and the start of practices and rehearsals.

Traditionally Vandegrift hosts summer strength and conditioning camps and sports camps, the Viper band and dance teams begin rehearsals, cheer starts practicing, volleyball and football practices and games begin in August but all of that is on hold for now. 

“We still aren’t sure how those orders affect us. Leander ISD asked that we shut our camp down while we get clarification if that order includes summer workout camp. Once we get clarification, we will communicate that with our stakeholders,” said Drew Sanders, VHS athletic coordinator.

The July 16 LISD Board of Trustees meeting was to provide more direction on where the district is heading as school is to start next month.

“We continue to listen to our community, parents, teachers and staff to understand their concerns and course-correct where we can while in alignment with state and local guidelines,” Mitchell said. “We so greatly appreciate the support and patience of our LISD family during this challenging time.”