Without a way to provide virtual instruction for the 2021-22 school year, the San Antonio Independent School District is working to find ways to safely educate students who have medical conditions or are not eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said at Monday’s school board meeting.

SAISD had planned to offer remote instruction for the upcoming school year, but a bill that would have funded virtual learning failed to pass during the regular legislative session when Democratic lawmakers walked out to protest a Republican-backed voting bill, preventing a quorum.

Martinez lamented the fact that Texas school districts have no way to provide virtual instruction for those students who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

“We are caught in the middle [of] Texas politics,” Martinez said. “It is very frustrating for me and my staff because we want to provide as much flexibility to our children who need it.”

Unlike last school year, Texas school districts will not receive funding for virtual instruction nor do they have the authority to allow students to earn academic credit via remote learning, Martinez said. He said he hopes the state Legislature will pick up the bill during the current special session, but Gov. Greg Abbott would have to place it on the legislative agenda, which he has not done.

That’s not the only option the state has eliminated for schools. Districts can no longer require students or staff members to wear masks in schools, although SAISD is asking parents to fill out an “opt out” form if they do not want their students masked at school. Martinez said about 1% of the 10,000 students enrolled in the district’s summer school program had chosen not to wear masks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its COVID-19 guidance for schools this week, urging all eligible individuals to get vaccinated and for all staff and students over 2 years old to wear masks on campus. Children over 12 years of age can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The academy also recommended that students return to school in person.

“Remote-learning highlighted inequities in education, was detrimental to the educational attainment of students of all ages, and exacerbated the mental health crisis among children and adolescents,” according to the guidance.

To help ease families’ minds, SAISD plans to continue offering weekly COVID-19 tests to students and staff through Community Labs, a local nonprofit, but parents must fill out a form to give the district permission to test students. SAISD must meet a certain threshold of people getting tested to maintain the free testing on all SAISD campuses, Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann said.

“We cannot compel our students to be tested, to be vaccinated, or to wear a face mask,” she said.

Martinez said SAISD is testing these safety measures during summer school, which started Monday. The district is enforcing 3-foot social distancing and encouraging unvaccinated individuals to wear masks. SAISD plans to release more information on safety measures to families Monday.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.