By George Slaughter
The district reinstated virtual learning for kindergarten through sixth grade students in August. It did so in response to concerns that no vaccine was available for students ages 11 and under, and the ongoing debate about mask mandates.
When the district reinstated virtual learning, it did so with the intention that all students would be in in-person learning by Oct. 18. It was also hoped that a vaccine for students would be available. Monday’s vote keeps to that original plan.
But last week, with no vaccine available for students and state funding for virtual learning assured, district officials recommended to trustees that the virtual learning option be extended to Dec. 17, the end of the fall semester, with full in-person learning resuming Jan. 4, after the year-end school break. Trustees pushed the vote to Monday, saying they needed more information before making a decision.
The school district recommends, but does not mandate, wearing masks as a defense against the coronavirus. Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting school districts and other local entities from issuing mask mandates. Some school districts are challenging Abbott’s executive order, and the matter is now in the courts.
The district established the Katy Virtual Academy in the spring of 2020 in response to the pandemic. It voted last spring to end virtual learning and have all students returning to in-person learning when school opened in August. But ongoing pandemic concerns compelled trustees to reinstate virtual learning as a temporary option.
Trustee Rebecca Fox said last week she felt students learn best in a face-to-face environment. But some parents have argued for virtual learning with no student vaccine available and the lack of a mask mandate.
“The Board of Trustees has left parents with no option to protect their children because they are unwilling to implement safety measures within the schools and are now forcing unvaccinated students back into the classroom,” Dr. Eliz Markowitz, who has urged a masking mandate, said Monday on social media.
The Katy Virtual Academy enrollment has fallen 15% from 4,191 in August to 3,555 students as of last Monday, Sept. 28, district officials said last week.
Enrollment has dropped as parents request that their children be transferred back into in-person learning, a district official said.
As of Monday, the district reported 350 active coronavirus cases. Of these, 309 were students and 41 were staff. The district reported it had 4,273 cumulative cases since June 1.
Here is a further breakdown of these numbers:
- High school: 48 active cases, 37 of which are students, 11 are staff. The district reported 874 cumulative high school cases since June 1.
- Junior high school: 74 active cases, 67 of which are students, seven are staff. The district reported 973 cumulative junior high school cases since June 1.
- Elementary school: 221 active cases, 205 of which are students, 16 are staff. The district reported 2,315 cumulative elementary school cases since June 1.