How 3 Austin families are facing hard choices about work, childcare, COVID-19 as school year approaches
As government officials debate when and how students will go back to school this fall, parents are caught in the middle, trying to account for childcare, work schedules and academic development in the absence of clear guidance.
On Tuesday, Travis County health authorities announced that, to slow the spread of COVID-19, no schools would be allowed to hold in-person instruction until at least Sept. 7.
Austonia spoke with three families about the choices they're making.
Sarah Summers is the single mother of a 4-year-old daughter and a PhD candidate in religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally, she planned to send her daughter to Pre-K at Maplewood Elementary in the Cherrywood neighborhood. But now she faces new childcare and financial constraints related to the pandemic.
"In the fall, I'm not going to put her back in school," Summers said.
Because Summers received emergency pandemic funding from her university department, she is no longer eligible for free Pre-K and would have to pay to send her daughter to Austin ISD.
But, her sister, who also lives in town, was fired from her retail job—"in an email," Summers said—and is now available for childcare a couple days a week.
"All [my daughter] should be doing is arts and crafts and playing outside in the dirt, and she can definitely do that better with my sister than from remotely online," Summers said.
While Summers has mixed feelings about her decision, she appreciates being able to make it.
"Being able to choose in the fall whether school is necessary or not feels like a very privileged choice," she said.
Especially since she worries if school would be a safe place for her daughter.
"I don't think there's anything that any individual school could do to make it feel OK," Summers said.
Her daughter, however, is not conflicted. When Summers explained that she would not be attending school in the fall, her daughter said: "That's great. I love being with you. I hate boring school."
Ellary Jones, Chris Jones, Patrice Jones, Emily Freeman and Abigail Jones are deciding as a family whether a return to school makes sense.
Patrice Jones lives in the North Loop neighborhood with her husband and three of their six children, a 15-year-old rising sophomore and 17-year-old rising senior at McCallum High School, as well as a 19-year-old enrolled at the Aveda Institute.
Because Jones has an autoimmune disease, the family has closely adhered to quarantine guidelines. If the two younger children return to McCallum, they'll have to redouble their efforts.
"Our house is set up so that we could live downstairs and they could live upstairs," Jones said. "We're very privileged in that respect."
While Jones feels that her kids would likely be safe from the virus if they were to return to school, she worries about the risk they might pose to others.
"If we're not prepared to protect the teachers and the staff, then my personal belief is that we don't have any business opening up schools right now," she said. "Even though I really want to send my kids back. They really need it."
Her high schoolers are involved in music and art, which are hard to practice virtually, and her senior is especially concerned about missing out on senior year traditions. But Jones and her husband have urged them to balance their own desire to return to school with concern for others.
"It's a decision they really have to come to themselves," she said.
While she wants her kids to have a say, it's up to her and her husband to make the final call.
"The kids are just lost." she said. "They've never experienced anything like this. I mean, we haven't either. But I think we're better equipped to handle it."
Shaena Robison lives with her husband and their two children—a 6-year-old son enrolled at Austin ISD and a 3-year-old daughter who is signed up for a church preschool—in the Skyview neighborhood.
"I don't think that there's going to be any in-person school [this fall]," Robison said. "Maybe there'll be some online, but that doesn't help as far as childcare."
When the city's stay-home order was in place, in late March and April, Robison's job in health care allowed her to cut back on hours and still receive full pay.
"I was able to be at home with the kids while my husband was working and still getting paid, so that was working well," Robison said. But now things are "totally different."
Robison had to return to her job, which she said takes precedence because the family receives its health insurance from her employer, she earns slightly more than her husband and she is enrolled in a loan forgiveness program that requires her to work full time to receive benefits.
Her husband is a private contractor and works when she's off, which is an imperfect solution.
Initially, Robison was frustrated by the prospect that schools might not reopen.
"I work in health care. And I currently treat and work with COVID patients. I feel like, a little bit, I'm putting my health and life on the line to do that," she said. "Why isn't, at the very least, elementary school an essential service?"
After speaking with some teacher friends of hers, she remains frustrated but for a different reason. Teachers told her they don't have the same resources that are available to health care workers to keep them safe.
"Why aren't they given those resources?" Robison asked. "It's all just frustrating."
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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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