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How Austin's Stage 5 affects schools, extracurriculars

Austin health officials have recommended to school districts that they suspend extracurricular activities where masking and social distancing can't be followed.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-Travis County has officially moved to Stage 5 of the risk-based coronavirus guidelines set by the health leaders. 

How does that affect schools? 

Well, Austin Public Health Interim Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a press conference Dec. 23 leaders were in talks with Travis County superintendents about the effects of the rising pandemic on schools. He said officials have recommended to the superintendents that they suspend or "significantly limit" extracurricular activities where masking and social distancing are not possible.

RELATED: Austin enters final Stage 5 in risk-based coronavirus guidelines

"I know there are football playoffs going on right now ... I know those are very difficult situations. But what we're asking schools and the entire community [to do] is decrease the risk as much as possible and as quickly as possible so that we can decrease the transmission here and flatten the curve," Escott said.

Escott said APH would continue to monitor the data as it comes in and discuss that data with superintendents over the holidays regarding a return to 100% virtual learning. 

WATCH: Football continues despite local surge in COVID-19 cases

Escott said leaders would like to preserve in-person learning for elementary-aged students as much as possible. He said data suggests those students are the ones who benefit the most from in-person learning and are most impacted by having to transition to virtual learning.

"If we continue in a significant and aggressive upward fashion in cases and hospitalizations, then it is likely we would make the recommendation that schools go virtual," Escott said.

Here's how area school districts are making adjustments in accordance with these guidelines.

Austin ISD

 Austin ISD board members held a meeting Dec. 23.

"At this point, APH is not recommending 100% remote," said Dr. Stephanie Elizalde. "They are asking we look at extracurricular practices by providing testing and restricting spectators."

However, Austin ISD is considering different options after winter break. In a letter to parents and staff, the superintendent of Austin ISD said classes after winter break may be remote or canceled altogether.

RELATED: Austin is in Stage 5: What that means for restaurants and businesses

Currently, students are scheduled to return from winter break the week of Jan. 4.

If the district moves to remote, it will come at an additional expense for the district. If the district extends winter break for a week, students will have to make up those missed days.

In November, after Thanksgiving break, all classes were remote for one week and the district offered free COVID-19 tests. 

Pflugerville ISD

Pflugerville ISD plans to resume classes in-person on Jan. 6 for those who chose that option. The district will suspend all sub-varsity extra-curricular, co-curricular and athletics through the remainder of winter break. 

"Varsity athletic events will continue as scheduled with no spectators permitted," the district said. "Additionally, the district will cease all playoff athletic events scheduled at The Pfield for the remainder of the break."

The current orders associated with Stage 5 can be viewed here. The orders do not constitute a change in regulations for the City of Austin, but instead serve to highlight strong recommendations that Austin Public Health, the City of Austin and Travis County encourage individuals, businesses and organizations to take.

WATCH: Coronavirus in Austin, Texas: Leaders address city as Travis County enters Stage 5 | KVUE


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