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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An Austin-based program manager for Apple Maps and one of two leaders for the #AppleToo activist movement said she has been fired after a suspension.
According to the New York Times, Janneke Parrish said she was put on suspension for several days while the company investigated her activities before she was fired by a human resources employee via phone call on Thursday.
Parrish was under investigation for allegedly leaking a recording of an Apple staff meeting to the media, which she said she didn't do.
The report said the company told Parrish, who is 30, that she was being fired for having deleted files off her company-issued phone and computer before handing them in for examination. Parrish said the files she deleted contained her personal and financial information.
Among the files she deleted were the Robinhood app, which she said was to keep Apple from seeing "how much money I lost investing in GameStop," the Pokemon Go app and screenshots of programming bugs she was fixing.
Parrish said she believes Apple was retaliating against her efforts in organizing #AppleToo, a group of employees working to expose the company's "culture of secrecy" that has been "faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender and historically marginalized groups of people."
Parrish had been publishing weekly accounts of workplace problems that had been shared anonymously with her from other employees, though she did not verify employment on all of them. The accounts she received were in the hundreds, so Parrish said she was hopeful her termination would lead to some justice within the company.
Employees at tech giants have been more outspoken than usual in recent months—with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaking out against her former employer—and Parrish said the company's desire to keep under wraps has eroded trust by discouraging employees to come forward with issues like harassment or wage disparity.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock commented on the matter: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters."
Additionally, the email detailing her termination, which was obtained by the New York Times, said Apple had determined that Parrish "engaged in conduct in violation of Apple policies including, but not limited to, interfering with an investigation by deleting files on your company provided equipment after being specifically instructed not to do so."
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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