TEXAS — Parents and educators across the state are pushing the Texas Legislature to pass a bill allowing school districts to continue offering virtual learning next year, and receive the same level of funding from the state.
But they’re worried that it might not make it to the governor’s desk before the end of the session.
“We were really hoping to keep both of my kids safe until they can get vaccinated," said Heather Roell.
At 11 and 9 years old, Heather Roell’s two kids are both too young to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Her younger child also has a heart condition, and now that the governor issued an executive order prohibiting school districts from issuing and enforcing masks requirements, she wants to keep them learning virtually next school year.
“Those two coupled together, make things very dangerous for our kids," said Roell. "I would love for my kids to be back in school. Absolutely. Just, it needs to be safe for them to do that.”
“The vast majority of requests for virtual learning are in that that kinder through fifth grade span," said Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside ISD and president of the Texas Association of School Administrators. "Those families are sending a clear message that, that they really want to wait until a large majority of the population, and their own child is vaccinated before they return to a more normal setting in the building.”
More than 40 Texas school districts recently sent a letter to the Lt. Governor and the Senate Education Committee asking them to pass House Bill 1468, which would allow school districts to continue offering virtual learning next year for grades three and up, and receive the same level of funding from the state.
“I’ve heard school districts that are willing to kind of dip into other funds in order to provide remote instruction. Some school districts out there just won't be able to find those funds available to continue the programs," said Bob Popinski, director of policy at Raise Your Hand Texas.
“While in building, learning is the best option for most students. There are circumstances where students either because of a medical condition for themselves or their family, or students who have just found themselves really successful in the virtual environment, want to stay there. And we want to serve those families," said Woods.
“The thing that I am seeing [from other parents] is 'my kid is doing a lot better than they did when they were in that building, and I don't know if I can go back to the way it was before'…my senior who's all about the tech is all about 'just give me my work and leave me alone' did fantastic," said Austin ISD parent Candace Hunter.
But not everyone thinks that continuing to offer virtual learning is a good idea.
“We'll be in the same boat that we're in right now, where children and students of all ages are not doing what's asked of them, and parents are upset with teachers, with the school districts because kids are falling behind," said Sherri Foster, a special education teacher in Austin ISD.
The Senate Education Committee heard public testimony on the bill on Friday, but at the moment the bill is left pending in committee.
With just over one week left in the legislative session, it’s uncertain whether HB 1468 will make it to the governor’s desk.
Heather Roell is crossing her fingers that it does.
“I’m hoping that virtual can be an option for parents and families, next year," said Roell.