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Superintendent Provides Update as District Prepares for Start of School

July 27, 2021

Dear Lake Travis ISD Staff, Parents and Guardians,

First and foremost, I hope each of you is having a safe and relaxing summer. The 2021-2022 instructional year is right around the corner, and on behalf of the board of trustees and the administration, I would like to provide you with an update on our plans for the start of school.  

ThoughtExchange Survey:
Last week, we sent a survey from ThoughtExchange asking you to share your priorities for our return to school. Since 2018, we have partnered with ThoughtExchange to provide you with opportunities for sharing your feedback on significant matters to our District. To date, our current exchange has yielded the highest participation and most feedback compared to any of our past surveys. Our Return to In-person Learning survey will remain open through Thursday, July 29. Your feedback will help us finalize our Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan which we will make available soon.

I would also like to take this opportunity to share some of the decisions that have already been made in preparing for the start of school. 

Masks:
Masks will be optional for staff, students and visitors. According to Governor Greg Abbott’s current executive order, school districts are prohibited from requiring anyone to wear a mask or other face covering. We encourage all families and staff members to make the best decision for themselves in deciding whether to wear one or not, and we expect all staff, students, and visitors to respect the choice of others.

COVID Vaccine:
Vaccines will not be required for staff or students for the 2021-2022 school year. This is a very personal choice for everyone, and we respect the rights of individuals to make their own decisions. We have not and will not track individuals who have and have not received the vaccine.

We are in contact with the Texas Education Agency and Austin Public Health as COVID numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise. As a result, Austin Public Health has moved Travis County from Stage 2 to Stage 4 in the last two weeks. We will continue to work with these agencies to make decisions that are in the best interest of our staff and students.

Virtual School and ESSER Funding:
In March, we released a parent questionnaire to gauge interest in a potential virtual campus option for the 2021-2022 school year. Of the 2,778 respondents, 1,994 families—or 71.8%— indicated “no” interest in pursuing a virtual campus option compared to 784 families—or 28.2%—who replied “yes.” Parents who expressed an interest in a virtual school option also shared concerns which would ultimately prevent them from enrolling their child in a virtual campus including but not limited to limited options for programs and courses that are not conducive to an online environment; commitment to a semester or to a full school year; and restriction from participating in UIL events. 

Furthermore, the 2021 Texas Legislature introduced HB 1468 which would have funded a virtual school program for school districts. Unfortunately, the bill faced some challenges and did not pass. We are aware that a couple of our neighboring districts are using available Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to offer virtual learning. By comparison, those districts received more funding than LTISD, with Austin receiving $155 million, Round Rock $47 million, and Leander $35 million. Lake Travis ISD received $8 million. Some of the ESSER funds are required to be spent on accelerated learning (tutoring) for students who did not test or pass the STAAR exam. 

Based on our stakeholder input and identification of our district’s priorities, use of our ESSER funds will be used to address tutoring, accelerated instruction, and social and emotional needs.  We believe that our plans for the ESSER funding will benefit many of our staff and students. Visit our website to review our ESSER presentation to the school board

Volunteers on Campus:
We know our parents want to be on campus and involved in their child's education, and we want the same thing. We will be allowing visitors and volunteers back on campus this year, and we are in the process of finalizing those protocols. We know students perform better when our parents and schools work together, and we are excited that parents, volunteers, and mentors will be on campus this year.

House Bill 3979 and Critical Race Theory:
In addition to feedback on COVID protocols, there have been some ongoing concerns expressed about the teaching of Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory, commonly referred to as CRT, is not included in the social studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Additionally, during the regular session this spring, legislators passed HB 3979 which was  signed into law by Governor Abbott. The bill prohibits teaching concepts of CRT in the required social studies curriculum.  

We know this is a lot of information. Our campus and district administration are always available to help answer any questions. We appreciate your continued understanding and support as we welcome our staff, students and parents back to school.

Sincerely,
 
Paul Norton
Superintendent of Schools