Two phase school reopening plan announced for Fall semester


Cade Spencer

On Thursday, August 6, Principal Mark Robinson announced a two phase reopening policy for the Fall semester. The Austin Independent School District (AISD) Board will vote on Thursday, August 6 to possibly push back the start date of the 2020-2021 school year and extended the initial period of remote learning.

Cade Spencer and Faith Lawrence

In order to ensure the health and safety of all students and staff, the Fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year will follow a modified format described in Principal Mark Robinson’s Star Newsletter. In the first phase of the plan, campus will continue to be closed to the public as students participate in three weeks of remote learning. 

“Over the last few months, my leadership team and I have been modeling how school might work this year in light of the on-going global pandemic,” Robinson wrote in his public announcement. “What was already a complex task has been made even more challenging by multiple, conflicting messages from officials at all levels of government and agencies, as well as the surge of infection rates in central Texas over the summer.”

Students and staff are familiar with remote learning as it was used in the remainder of the Spring semester of the past school year, and virtual instruction will continue to operate on BLEND and Zoom with live instruction as applicable. In contrast to the system of remote learning in the Spring, students will now be expected to follow a daily schedule from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the 2020-21 A/B calendar

“One change I would like to see in virtual school this year is a more personal, close experience,” junior Kylee Dinwiddie said. “I felt distanced from my teachers and classmates during virtual learning last semester. I felt like class was very general, and it was hard to personalize it and actually make connections with your teachers and classmates like you normally would.”

In addition to the implementation of a more extensive schedule for remote learning compared to last semester, students will also be expected to receive numerical grades for their work and meet the state’s 90% class attendance requirement for credit. If a student needs appropriate technology or technology repairs, they can reach out to their school counselors, alpha assistant principal, or AISD Summer Curbside

“Our teachers have learned a lot in the last five months, sharpened their tech and virtual classroom skills, and now have many more district curriculum and technology resources available to them,” Robinson wrote in the newsletter. “I am so appreciative of their efforts and confident that they will be ready to offer high-quality virtual instruction to your child(ren) to start the year.”

In the second phase of the plan, students will have the option to attend Stationary Homeroom Instructional Pods (SHIPs) on campus in which students will be placed in a classroom with the same teacher each day with restricted on-campus student movement. On-campus learning will be available for students who have a compelling reason to attend on-campus classes, but schools must attempt to reduce the number of students present on campus. Students attending SHIPs can find more information here about specific instructions for on campus learning. 

“I would prefer to participate in 100 percent online school, it’s the safest way to protect me and my family,” senior Kaylin York said. “I would be too anxious going to school and being around other kids with the heightened risk of getting COVID-19, with the chance of giving it to other members of my family; many of whom have compromised immune systems.” 

Robinson wrote in the newsletter that there will be “little to no academic advantage or social benefit to selecting on-campus instruction.” On-campus instruction will involve virtual learning through BLEND but will be done on-campus rather than at home. Additionally, on-campus student movement will be restricted and there will be no passing periods as students will remain in one classroom for the entirety of the school day. Students attending SHIPs will undergo a health-screening every day and must maintain social distancing and wear a mask at all times. 

“I will miss the social aspect of school,” junior Kate Oelkers said. “I miss seeing all of my classmates and teachers everyday. Even if they were not my close friends, I still enjoyed being surrounded [by] everybody and meeting new people in my classes.”

Parents must fill out a survey to commit to 100 percent remote learning or 100 percent on-campus learning for the length of the transition period but will be able to reassess their decision after each grading period or about every six weeks.

“Even with all of the precautions described put in place, I still would not feel completely safe at school,” senior Conner Petru said. “If everyone followed the precautions perfectly, then maybe the campus would be perfectly safe, but it is hard to be sure of that, and most likely virtual at-home learning would be safer.”

The Austin ISD school board will meet Thursday, August 6 to discuss changing the Tuesday, August 18 start date to Tuesday, September 8 and consider extending the initial 100 percent remote learning from three to four weeks. In the future, there is the possibility to request an additional four weeks of remote learning, and all updates to the board’s decisions will be available on The Dispatch

“The push back [would] make me feel a little more relaxed, considering the summer work and the college prep I have to do,” senior Laine Smith said. “It would be nice to have a bit more time to focus on preparing for the unknown.”

Additional reporting by Arushi Sharma and Shruti Patel.