After six months out of the classroom, Austin ISD parents are still seeing their children miss out on vital social interactions even as some returned to schools this week.
Sheryl and Dean Jett have twin seniors at Austin High School. Their son is the lead drum major of the marching band, which had their season scrapped, and their daughter is in cheer, which has been holding outdoor practices for a few weeks now but has seen its season limited.
"It is sad not to see our kids in the full capacity of their roles this year. There is no going back, this is it," Sheryl said.
The Jetts' kids have handled the shift to virtual learning pretty well, but what their kids are not getting is the social interaction that is important at that age, Sheryl said.
A study from John Hopkins University supports parents' concerns that schools are much more than a place for delivering educational content and recognizes that students will come back with not only educational setbacks but also setbacks in their social and emotional skills.
AISD began the early phases of reopening campuses this week. Beginning with up to 25% capacity, students in prekindergarten, kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades returned to school buildings for the first time since March.
In a district survey with over 54,000 respondents, 57% of families with elementary aged children and over 70% of middle and high schoolers said they will continue virtually.
On Monday, 104 teachers were absent for in-person teaching, according to an AISD spokesman. Despite being back in session, Education Austin—the union that represents over 3,000 AISD staff members—has requested the district continue remote teaching this fall, and continues communication with the district to find better alternatives.
The Jetts said they would like to send their kids back to school, but plan to wait until the school experience more closely resembles a "normal day," which includes kids working directly with their teachers and changing classrooms. Under the reopening plan, the Jetts' kids aren't eligible to return to campus until Oct. 26, since seniors are among the last group to return.
Students who returned to classes this week are restricted to a single classroom all day, participating in their individual Zoom classes. The Jetts' son would be unable to participate in his daily band class, which includes practicing an instrument during his Zoom meeting due to the disruption for other students in the class.
"Our kids would rather stay home, no mask, with the freedom to move around and participate in both their regular and extracurricular classes," the Jetts said; adding there's also the benefit of having snacks whenever they want.
AISD has been one of the last local districts to reopen in-person, which has prompted some criticism from parents. However, other area districts are taking similar approaches with Round Rock ISD phasing in students, and Del Valle ISD and Eanes ISD giving students the option to choose to stay remote if they like.
"I travel around the state for my work, and I see other schools are back in session, at least it seems that way. I'm not sure why AISD has been slow when other districts are moving forward," Dean said.
Other families, however, feel that their kids will rebound despite the social setbacks caused by the pandemic.
In south Austin, Ismael Flores and his wife are also navigating through the learning shift. They currently have two kids enrolled at AISD, a third-grade daughter at Cunningham Elementary, and a son, who is a senior at Crockett High School. Flores also has two older children, one of whom is attending college online.
"I don't think my kids have missed out on their education. We are fortunate to have technology," Flores said. "My daughter has speech therapy, and it feels like she and her teacher didn't miss a beat. As a parent, that felt good."
He knows some families are struggling and feels fortunate that his wife is a stay-at-home parent, and his job—as a pastor at South Austin Church—offers flexibility allowing him to help out at home.
Flores said while he's sad his son is missing out on the experience of his final high school year, he feels that the district and its teachers are better prepared this time around than when the pandemic hit Austin in the spring.
After some back-and-forth, the Flores family made the tough decision to return to in-person school this week, and their senior will participate in the hybrid model—which includes attending in-person two days, and remotely the other three days of each week.
Flores, who said they have been very open with their kids about COVID, likes that families can opt out of the district plans at any time. They have reminded their kids to think about others when they attend in-person classes, and have talked through safety protocols. He also said his family's interactions with teachers have been great.
"(The district) is doing the best they can with the situation they have. We won't really know how it goes until the rubber meets the road. Let's give our teachers and administrators some grace and encouragement—this is new for everyone," Flores said.
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Austin police lifted the shelter in place order after searching the area around 9600 block of Great Hills Trail near the Arboretum for a 41-year-old man named Stephen Broderick, who they believe is responsible for shooting and ultimately killing three people in Northwest Austin
As of 5 p.m., the suspect is still at large and considered to be armed and dangerous, though police do not believe he is actively targeting anyone else. During a press briefing at 4:45 on Sunday, APD Interim police Chief Joseph Chacon said they are switching the search from the immediate area to a fugitive search as they have exhausted all the leads they currently have.
Chacon confirmed during the briefing that Broderick was a former Travis County Sheriff's Office deputy. Chacon said they will remain on the scene for "several hours" and there were 75 FBI agents on the scene as of the briefing.
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. Chacon said a child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Broderick was described as 5 foot, 7 inches with a medium build and was last seen wearing a gray hoodie, sunglasses and a baseball cap.
"We're very sorry that obviously that this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
At a 2:30 p.m. press briefing, Chacon said APD responded to a "shoot, stab, hot shot" call on Great Hills Trail and Rain Creek Parkway at 11:46 a.m. to find the three victims with gunshot wounds. APD was joined by the Austin Fire Department. ATCEMS, the local chapter of the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, Department of Public Safety, and the Round Rock Police Department for support.
Though Austin Travis-County EMS originally reported it as an active shooter situation, police now believe the incident was an isolated domestic event.
"This is still an ongoing and active investigation and we do not have this individual in custody yet," Chacon said during the first press briefing. "We would ask if you have your neighbors, phone numbers, call or text them check on them and make sure that they're okay. We are concerned that he might possibly take a hostage and be himself sheltered somewhere waiting for us to leave."
At this time the Great Hills Trail scene is still active. We are still asking residents to shelter in place and report suspicious activity. While a suspect is still at large it appears this is a domestic situation that is isolated and there is no risk to the general public. -PIO8
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
Three helicopters and SWAT teams were sent to the area, as well as 18 ATCEMS response assets. According to Austin Police, the incident occurred at an apartment complex near Great Hills Trail and Rain Creek Parkway.
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
APD announced at 1:02 p.m. that Loop 360 will be shut down in both directions from Spicewood Springs to 183 due to the incident. The roads will remain closed until law enforcement is able to wrap up the crime scene and units demobilize.
TRAFFIC UPDATE: Loop 360 will be shut down in both directions from Spicewoods Springs to 183 due to ongoing incident. - PIO8
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
This is a developing story.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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