Students return to AISD classes last October for the 2020-21 school year (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Late Monday evening, Austin Independent School District joined Houston, Dallas and other school districts across the state in challenging the government. Greg AbbottCOVID-19 orders and requiring masks for students, teachers, staff and visitors when in-person learning resumes next week.
âI am responsible for the safety, health and well-being of each of our students and staff,â said AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde to a special called board of directors appointment Monday. “And if I’m wrong, I have to err on the side of making sure we’ve been too careful, not that we’ve failed.” The first day of school at AISD is Tuesday August 17th.
Doctors, educators, caregivers and health officials all cited the unique risks that the highly transmissible Delta variant poses for children and adolescents, especially for students under the age of 12 who are still not eligible for vaccination. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients aged 17 and under have more than tripled locally, according to Austin Public Health; of the 34 young people admitted in July, half were old enough to be vaccinated. At Tuesday’s joint city-county briefing, Health Authority Dr. Desmar Marche – who also spoke to AISD administrators on Monday – reiterated his support for masking in schools, saying the choices to reopen schools with or without masks will have a significant impact on the future capacity of intensive care in Austin, which is at its lowest (see above).
Based on projections compiled by UT-Austin‘s COVID-19 modeling consortium, schools reopening with masking in a setting in which high compliance is followed – meaning constant mask wear, getting vaccinated (for those who are eligible), and staying home when sick – could potentially prevent Austin to exceed its capacity in intensive care beds. Walkes said, “Anything we can do at this point to bend that curve down will be important to our community.”
A version of this article appeared in print on August 13, 2021 with the title: AISD makes masks compulsory for the start of the school year