AUSTIN, Texas — Days after several people in Austin and Travis County were diagnosed with coronavirus, leaders with the Austin Independent School District announced March 16 that it had canceled classes from March 23 to April 3.
"We all know right now we're in a time of uncertainty, but we want to bring certainty," said Dr. Paul Cruz, AISD superintendent. "There are certain issues that are going on throughout our country and our state regarding COVID-19. There is a city ordinance that has come in place that we need to make sure that we are aware of and in compliance with."
AISD said staff will operate a modified work week after spring break, which will allow planning time to transition to a distance learning environment for students.
Cruz reassured teachers would continue to be paid during the closure. Cruz added Austin ISD Food Services will prepare and provide meals for children. For the most updated list of sites, parents should visit www.austinisd.org/coronavirus. Each student will receive a meal pack containing breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, according to Cruz.
Folks with Teacher Union Education Austin think this is a great idea.
"There's a lot of unknowns, but we can't be afraid to make decisions in a space of an unknown. We have to make decisions on behalf of our children and our families," said Ken Zarifis, Education Austin president.
"In this situation, for two weeks, it's pretty significant, I get it. I do, but we're in constant communication with our health experts and also with city leadership and county to make sure we're making the best decision for our students and for our families," said Cruz.
H-E-B also announced it would be donating $100,000 to help AISD with food services.
The announcement came after the Austin ISD Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting on the first day the "presumptive positive" cases of coronavirus were announced by the City on March 13.
"I do not take these decisions lightly. It takes time and when I look at an organization with 81,000 students and meeting their needs every day. With a workforce of over 12,000 and 129 sites, I can't just make a split decision," said Cruz.
The board said the district will ensure that staff gets paid if schools need to be shut down for longer than the week-long spring break. Spring break is set to end on March 22.
The board also addressed the following at the March 13 meeting:
- Make purchases outside the normal contract and procurement requirements to ensure schools remain safe and clean and to make necessary technology purchases to provide ongoing learning
- Compensate employees who may be affected by the suspension of classes
- Apply for waivers regarding instructional minutes and low attendance with the Texas Education Agency
Families are encouraged to create contingency plans for students to stay home longer, if needed, AISD said. AISD said the return to school will depend on developments regarding the restrictions and successful move to a remote learning model, and information on remote learning resources will be provided to students and their families.
"District leaders are in daily communication with local health authorities to make decisions with the interest of our families in mind," said Cruz. "Austin ISD is known for innovation, and our coordinated response to provide for the continuity of education in the midst of this pandemic is no exception. I am grateful to our board, administration, teachers, staff, students and families for your understanding and flexibility during this time."
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