Aug 15, 2022 - News

What's new as Austin students head back to school

Illustration of a finger stretching out to turn off an alarm clock made from a red apple
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Austin public schools are back in session.

It's a time of optimism — no one yet has gotten the dreaded red-ink, encircled "See me" note on the top of a pop quiz.

Yes, but: Prepare for another year of bruising political battles over books, curriculum and teacher pay — not to mention masks and pandemic measures.

Here's what's new:

Safety

The big picture: The specter of the Uvalde shooting haunts every Texas public school.

  • Some central Texas schools — in Del Valle and Manor, for example — are now requiring kids to wear see-through backpacks. But it's not clear that will do anything to stop an attack — and may make school even more tricky for teens who want to keep all kinds of things private.
  • At AISD, parents won't be able to walk their wee ones into the classroom for that first-day-of-school hug-and-tears — or any day. They instead have to drop them off with teachers at designated spots outside schools.
  • Hays CISD, which starts classes Thursday, has added additional security staff, conducted an exterior door audit for all 26 campuses and installed exterior door numbering systems.

What they're saying: "We've always chased down every threat and required anyone entering our buildings to either have authorization or a key card," AISD spokesperson Jason Stanford tells Axios.

  • Of note: AISD is completing the installation of bullet-resistant film on the glass at entryways, and every principal is reviewing safety procedures with campus staff before the start of school.
  • "We did a safety audit of every single door on every single campus," Stanford tells Axios.
Prayer is OK

Expect more open displays of faith from administrators, coaches and students this school year.

Driving the news: The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled 6-3 that a Washington state public high school football coach had a right to pray on the field with players, declaring that such activity is protected under the Constitution because it counts as free speech.

Getting to and from school

The tight labor shortage that has left businesses scrambling for workers has hit budget-sensitive school districts hard.

PSA refresher: Don't pass school buses with extended stop signs — in either direction. It's dangerous and you could get a ticket.

Free lunches end

At Hays CISD, Austin ISD and other Central Texas districts, meals are no longer free for all after federal pandemic-related funding expired.

Zoom out: Schools across the country are bracing for a rise in lunch prices as food costs spike.

  • A full-price elementary school lunch in Austin now costs $3.15; middle and high school lunches run families $3.25 per day.
Change at the top

Austin ISD's interim superintendent, Anthony Mays, is a Huston-Tillotson graduate and the first Black man to lead the district.

  • Mays, who was appointed to the post in June, also has a doctorate in education and started his career as a special education teacher in Pflugerville.
  • "Being a student of poverty that moved from a comprehensive program to a magnet program, I grew up in a school system where I experienced inequities," Mays said. "The experience of a quality education has placed me in a position to lead fearlessly in my advocacy for all students."
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