AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday afternoon, Sarah Christian got a text from her daughter at Akins High School.
“She said, ‘I’m the only kid in my class right now. And I said, ‘What do you mean where is everybody?’ And she was like, ‘I guess they’re all out from COVID,’” Christian recalled.
“My reaction was like, ‘Whaaaaat’ and then a lot of exclamation points, I think, to the message, because it just seems so shocking,” she said.
In Thursday night’s family newsletter, the Austin Independent School District reported 780 COVID-19 cases among students just this week.
The current student case surge is the biggest the school district has seen since in-person learning resumed in October of last year, according to a graph also included in the newsletter.
The district said because of the increase in student COVID-19 cases, it is partnering with an online company called HeyTutor to offer free help while in quarantine or whenever they need it.
The service is for students in kindergarten through fifth grade for all subjects, the district said in its newsletter.
The district did not tell KXAN why the service isn’t offered to middle or high school students but said all students can access what’s happening in class through BLEND, the district’s digital platform.
“Campuses are also now beginning to explore options for more sustained tutorials with additional vendors that we have approved through our processes,” wrote AISD spokesperson Eduardo Villa.
Fatima Shaikh is glad she got a medical waiver from the Texas Education Agency to keep her student virtual this year at Harmony School of Science.
“I had to go through her primary care, I had to go through my doctor’s pulmonologist,” she said.
Shaikh had hoped to put her daughter back in person at some point this year but not with cases back on the rise.
“I was getting consistent notifications from the school, back to that: kids being infected in the classroom,” Shaikh said.
According to its latest updated rules, the TEA allows that virtual learning option for COVID-positive or COVID-exposed students. AISD said that’s not the case for it, yet, but the option is on the table.
“All options are always on the table, because we don’t know what the data will reveal. We will continue to use data and science to make the best decisions to keep our staff and students safe,” Villa wrote to KXAN.
The district has also been experiencing cases leading to teacher absences, pushing them to ask families to fill in as substitute teachers.
This week, the district reported 504 COVID-19 cases among staff. Administration and office staff are filling in those gaps.
“Thank you for your email. I am helping a campus as a substitute teacher today and will have intermittent access to email,” read an away message for an AISD communications employee when KXAN reached out.
“My son said that his vice principal is having to substitute in classrooms, because a lot of the teachers have been absent with it,” Christian said.
Parents can sign up for tutoring support here.