Last update: June 5, 2020
Austin International School began planning for COVID-19 prior to its arrival in the Austin community in March 2020. Since making the quick shift to distance learning in April 2020, our leadership team has been working tirelessly to plan for and put in place policy, procedural, and calendar modifications that may be necessary as we adapt to this ever-changing situation. The health and safety of all community members is our first priority. With this in mind, this set of frequently asked questions is meant to provide our community members insight into our planning for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Jump to Question:
1. Will the campus be open for the start of school on August 19th, 2020?
2. When will you be able to confirm the start date for the 2020-2021 school year?
3. In the event of a campus closure, how will you ensure continuity of learning?
4. How will you ensure that there are no gaps in academics after a period of distance learning?
5. Will AIS use a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning?
6. What biosecurity policies do you have in place?
7. What biosecurity procedures do you have in place?
8. What type of health screening measures will you have in place?
9. How will you handle a sick child or member of staff?
10. What if someone is diagnosed with COVID-19?
11. Will you be modifying the school calendar?
12. Will you be modifying the school hours?
13. How often do you require children and staff to wash their hands?
14. How will you ensure that children maintain physical distancing if and when required?
15. Will students work in groups?
16. Where will students eat lunch?
17. Will my child need to wear a mask to school?
18. How will you organize recess?
19. How will you organize physical education lessons?
20. How do you ensure campus cleanliness throughout the day?
21. Will you continue to offer complimentary, before-school care?
22. What will the process be for student drop-off?
23. Will you continue to offer optional afterschool care?
24. Will you continue to offer optional afterschool activities?
25. Will you have the PTO-sponsored Friday bake sale?
26. Will you have the PTO-sponsored Pizza Friday?
27. Will you have catered lunch?
28. Will you still hold large community events?
29. Will the school building be subject to maximum capacity regulations?
30. Are your school's biosecurity efforts guided by any external agencies?
Our target date for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year is Wednesday, August 19th, 2020. Ahead of this, new staff orientation will begin on August 5th and all staff will return for in-service on August 10th. Though faculty and students will be on summer vacation leading up to these days, our school’s leadership team and administrative staff work year-round to ensure the smooth operation of our campus and to prepare for the future.
Within the COVID-19 context, a large part of this summer’s planning will be dedicated to scenario planning for the 2020-2021 school year. Though we are targeting an August 19th, 2020 start date for school, we will only proceed with campus opening if: (1) the continued health and safety of all AIS community members can be ensured; and (2) we are permitted to do so by state authorities. We will be sending a campus opening update to the community in mid-July 2020.
Our school currently receives several updates per week from the Governor’s office, the Texas Education Agency, our accrediting bodies (i.e., AEFE, ISAS, and NAEYC), and partner organizations (i.e., MLF, NAIS, and TPSA). Because COVID-19 is an evolving situation, our leadership team will continue to monitor changing regulations and plan for them during the summer months. We will send updates to our community when key decisions are made.
In mid-July, three weeks prior to the start of our new staff orientation, we are planning for a communication to the AIS community that will provide more detailed information regarding the start date of school. This communication will include information about modifications to our policies and procedures, as well as any modifications to our calendar if they have been deemed necessary.
After the governor mandated the closure of all school campus in Texas in March of 2020, AIS pivoted quickly and launched its distance learning program for all students in PS (Pre-K3) through 4e (8th grade). Though the State of Texas waived attendance requirements for the academic year, AIS did not lose any instructional days. In fact, with the cancellation of several in-person community events, our school was able to add instructional days to our calendar.
Our mission calls on us to “develop our students’ critical thinking skills and pique their intellectual curiosity, preparing them for personal and academic success at AIS and beyond” and to do so “through a rigorous, immersive, trilingual curriculum delivered in French, English, and Spanish.” As an accredited educational institution committed to student learning, ensuring the continual academic and personal development of our students is at the heart of both our in-person and distance learning programs.
Continuity of learning is ensured through daily contact with teachers and classmates, continued delivery of our academic program, adapted assessment of student learning, and regular reporting on student progress to families. Though a distance learning environment cannot fully replicate the in-person experience, we will not compromise academic progress. Our diagnostic assessment upon return to in-person learning will ensure that students’ progress toward end-of-cycle expectations.
At the start of every academic year, students engage in a brief period of diagnostic assessment in order to: (1) identify students’ academic needs; (2) and plan the material and instruction needed to address those needs. AIS’s unique Seamless Curriculum is based on the curricular standards of the French National Curriculum, the Common Core State Standards, and the language acquisition standards of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. These three elements of our curriculum provide a clear basis for continuity of learning for teachers, students, and families alike.
An important understanding of student learning in the French National Education system is that each student progresses at a different pace. For this reason, AIS’s academic program – like all programs based on the French National Curriculum – is organized into three-year learning cycles. Each cycle has clearly defined end-of-cycle expectations for all students. Differentiation for students with identified gaps in learning is key, and by addressing the individual needs of each student, our teachers can ensure progress toward the end-of-cycle expectations.
When learning takes place on campus, our team also monitors student progress in reading, mathematics, language usage, and science through the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). These important periodic assessments administered three times per year help our staff identify both areas of strength and areas in need of focus for each student. MAP assessments 2020-2021 will take into account academic disruptions experienced in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Our school’s leadership team is working on scenario planning that considers three broad possibilities for campus operations during COVID-19:
- all students are on campus, though we operate with enhanced health precautions;
- a maximum percentage of students is on campus and students not on campus are engaged in distance learning; or
- no students are permitted to be on campus and all students are engaged in distance learning.
When operating with a maximum percentage of students on campus, we will endeavor to have all students of the same grade level on campus at the same time. In practice, this means that we will work to avoid having some students from a grade level on campus while requiring other students to remain off campus. Should this become a possibility, we will communicate this to families in advance.
AIS uses a Crisis Management Matrix for Contagious Diseases when operating under the threat of a contagious illness. Further to this, the “Student Health” section of our Family Handbook outlines policies related to: medical and immunization records; special health conditions; counseling services; dispensing medication; student illness; sunscreen and insect repellant; cleanliness and hygiene; animals. Our school’s vaccine requirements – mandated by the Texas Department of State Health Services – outlines current vaccine-related requirements for school.
Currently, there State of Texas has not provided any guidance for COVID-19 vaccination requirements related to school enrollment. Should this become a requirement, this information will be communicated to families and updated in our handbooks and website.
Implementation of biosecurity procedures related to communicable illnesses is outlined in our Crisis Management matrix for Contagious Diseases. Since March 2020, we have operated at a Level 4 (High Risk) and our biosecurity procedures have included: restricted access to campus for staff only; physical distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals if and when on campus; required face coverings; contactless temperature checks upon arrival and at two-hour intervals; and health screening questions. Entry data is logged in order to assist with contact tracing in the event an individual is later diagnosed with COVID-19.
For the 2020-2021 school year -- if appropriate to return to campus -- procedures put into place will be based on guidance and recommendations from local, state, federal, and global health authorities. Some of these procedures may include:
- For maternelle students, student drop-off at external classroom doors
- For CP students and up, families drop-off at designated points so that groups of students use separate, limited external entrances
- Only staff and students permitted to enter the building
- Maintained physical separation of groups of students
- Temperature checks for all staff and students upon arrival
- Handwashing and/or sanitization required upon arrival
- Required physical distancing when on campus
- Face coverings when physically and developmentally appropriate
- Increased handwashing frequency and staggered scheduling to minimize group contact
- Physical partitioning of students presenting illness near an exit point
- No use of shared materials in classrooms
- Library books to be disinfected after return
- Lunch in classrooms and not in a communal space
- Disinfection of the campus during the day with a focus on touch points
- Deep clean and disinfection of the campus every evening
Biosecurity procedures will be communicated to families as they are put into place. It is important to know that exactly which procedures are in place will be based on prevailing needs and guidance. The health, safety, and security of all community members is the guiding principle for the implementation of these procedures.
Families may anticipate some or all of the following health-screening measures to be in place at the start of the 2020-2021 school year:
- Health screening slip completed each morning and submitted at arrival
- Visual checks for signs of illness and potential health screening questions
- Temperature checks using a contactless thermometer
Members of our community who are showing symptoms of contagious illness are not permitted on campus. Depending on the severity of the illness, members of staff will be asked to take a sick day or work from home on days that they are ill. Students who fall ill while on campus will be separated from their classes and brought to a waiting area near an exterior door where a parent or guardian will be able to pick them up.
If you or a member of your household is exposed to or is diagnosed with COVID-19, you must inform the school’s reception as soon as possible. We will send a health alert out to our community with details about the group(s) that may have been exposed to COVID-19; health privacy laws require that we not name the individual. Following a group’s exposure to COVID-19, may subsequently require that that group not return to campus for a pre-determined period of time. In the event that an entire class cannot return to campus, distance learning protocols will allow for students’ continued engagement in academics.
Though AIS is an independent school, under exceptional circumstances, we may be required to close our campus temporarily, as seen during the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year. While our policies and procedures (see FAQ 6 and FAQ 7 above) are the first elements we will be modifying within the COVID-19 context, a final element subject to modification is our school calendar. Modifications to the calendar may include: a delayed start; an early start; and/or modified break times. Any modifications to the calendar will be sent to our community as soon as the decision has been made.
Our current start time for classes is 8:00am for middle school, 8:15 am for GS to CM2, and 8:45am for PS and MS. Pick up time is 3:25pm for elementary school and 3:30pm for middle school, except for Wednesdays, which is 2:05pm for all grade levels. Depending on the drop-off and pick-up locations for different grade levels, drop-off and pick-up times may be slightly staggered in order to reduce the number of people in physical proximity on campus. Any modifications to grade level timings will be communicated to families as soon as those decisions are made.
Our current practice is for students to wash their hands before and after eating, after using the restroom, and after recess. Upon return to campus, students will also be required to wash hands after touching common surfaces. Students are supervised when washing hands; teachers watch to ensure that students are using proper handwashing techniques. We encourage families to reinforce these techniques with their children at home, ensuring that they properly wash the front and backs of their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
Staff are required to wash their hands before handling food, after using the restroom, and after touching any common surfaces. While hand sanitizer may be used, this should only be as a secondary option.
Learning appropriate physical distancing begins with discussions with students and guidance from educators. Students will be taught and reminded about physical distancing requirements avoiding touching their own faces. As with all instruction, this guidance will be developmentally appropriate for each child. Educators will assist students with gentle reminders when physical distancing guidelines are not being respected. Routines will be adapted in order to maintain physical distance, which will be further supported by staggering some of our routines during the day (e.g. restroom visits, handwashing routines, etc.).
In order to allow for increased distance, classrooms will be organized to maximize distance between students. In maternelle, each grade level will have a secondary classroom which will allow students and educators to increase distance while learning in common and familiar spaces.
Students will be permitted to engage in collaborative work while respecting physical distancing guidelines established for their grade levels. During collaborative projects, every effort will be made to ensure that students do not use common materials. If students do have common touch points, then they will be required to thoroughly wash hands after touching common surfaces and/or materials.
Maternelle (PS through GS) students will continue to eat in their classrooms. Students in CP through CM2 are only be permitted to eat in shifts in the lunchroom if it is safe to do so. In the likely event that the lunchroom is not used, then students will eat in their classrooms. Students are required to wash their hands before and after eating and all eating surfaces must be disinfected before and after eating. Middle school students will be permitted to eat only in areas designated for their grade level(s) and will also be required to wash hands before and after eating.
In certain grade levels, students may be required to wear masks and/or cloth face coverings when in school. These requirements will be based on prevailing guidance from local, state, federal, and global health authorities. In preparation for this likely requirement, we encourage families to use the summer months to teach children about the proper wearing of face coverings.
Reusable cloth face coverings must be washed after use; students should only enter the campus each day using a clean face covering. Students wearing disposable masks should throw them away after removing them. Families should plan on sending students to school with a box of disposable face masks.
If and when there is no requirement for the use of face masks, the voluntary use of face masks is acceptable at any time for all AIS students.
As in previous years, students will go outside for recess in shifts. Under COVID-19-related restrictions designed to minimize interaction between learning groups, students may only be permitted to use certain areas of the playgrounds. The use of playscapes may be limited based on requirements from local and state authorities and/or by the ability to disinfect touch points between use.
During inclement weather, students will have indoor recess. Our indoor recess protocols limit interaction between groups. Regardless of the location of recess, however, students must continue to respect prevailing physical distancing requirements (see FAQ 14).
When and where feasible, staff will engage students in physical education activities in open and/or outdoor spaces. Students must respect physical distancing guidelines (see FAQ 14) and will not be permitted to use common/shared material unless it is safe to do so. Students will be required to wash hands thoroughly after physical education classes.
Each classroom has a supply of cleaning and disinfectant material that is regularly replenished. When with students, educators ensure that students are following proper hygiene requirements (i.e., coughing/sneezing into crook of elbow, washing hands after restroom, etc.). Our school employs a day porter who disinfects classrooms and common campus touch points between use. Every evening, our cleaning crew comes in two shifts and spends several hours on campus cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces and common touch points (e.g., door handles, light switches, desk surfaces, etc.).
Our cleaning supply company provides our school with hospital-grade disinfectants on a regular basis. All cleaning staff have been trained on the proper use of these materials and techniques for thorough disinfection of the campus.
AIS will only offer complimentary, before-school care if and when it is safe to do so. Under current guidelines designating low student-supervisor ratios while on campus, before-school care is not feasible. As such, there is a strong likelihood that before-school care will either not be offered or offered on a limited basis until it is safe to do so.
Our school’s leadership team is studying scenarios for drop-off times (see FAQ 12), including the possibility of limited before-school care. As soon as final decisions have been made regarding before-school care, these will be communicated to the AIS community.
Under current state and federal guidance, parents and guardians are not permitted to enter campuses. As such, parents and guardians of AIS students may anticipate that they will not be permitted to enter the campus at the start of the school year. Should these guidelines change, we will communicate this to the community as soon as a decision is made.
Our school’s drop-off routines for students will be based on final room allocations for the 2020-2021 school year. Maternelle (PS through GS) parents and guardians can anticipate dropping children off at exterior classroom doors. Elementary and middle school students will also have designated drop-off points (likely on a staggered schedule; see FAQ 12) that will allow entrance to classroom through designated entry points.
Under current guidance from state health authorities, afterschool care would be subject to significantly decreased student-supervisor ratios. We anticipate that these decreased ratios will continue into the 2020-2021 school year and may result in limited afterschool care. Our goal is to provide this important service to our families while:
- ensuring that risk to the health of students and staff is minimized;
- reducing and/or eliminating contact between classes; and
- meeting the state-mandated supervisory ratios.
We will continue to receive and consider local, state, federal, and global guidance over the summer months. Based on this information, we will be able to make determinations about the limitations imposed on our afterschool care program. As soon as these decisions are made, we will communicate these to families.
One of the primary strategies our school will use to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is to minimize contact between classes until it is safe to do so. As a result of this, there may be impacts on the afterschool activity offerings to our community. As with any school year, our Extracurricular Coordinator will work with our team and service providers to develop a list of engaging, educational, and fun offerings for our students. These offerings, however, must ensure the health and safety of students and staff.
If it is determined that afterschool activity offerings must be limited or delayed for a period of time, then we will communicate this decision to our community once it is made.
We will only hold the Friday bake sale if it is safe to do so. In a limited setting, families may be required to pre-order and/or collect baked goods. In a restricted scenario, families may only be able to receive baked goods during drive-through pick-up. In a reduced restriction scenario, families may be able to collect baked goods while maintaining physical distance of at least 6 feet.
Once a final determination is made as to the safe opening of Friday bake sale, this information will be communicated to families.
We will only hold Pizza Friday if it is safe to do so for students and volunteers. Once a final determination is made as to the safe operation of Pizza Friday, this information will be communicated to families.
AIS will work with a catered lunch provider who will be required to demonstrate adherence to strict food safety protocols in light of COVID-19. In the event that compliance with our school’s requirements cannot be ensured, then families will be asked to send their children to school with pre-packed lunches. Information about catered lunches will be communicated to families as soon as final decisions are made.
Our school will not be able to hold large in-person community events until local, state, federal, and/or global guidance indicates that it is safe to do so. Some of these events include Back to School Night, New Family Coffee, Fun Run, International Potluck, STEAM Fair, etc. When and where feasible, these events will be shifted to a digital format that will allow families to participate in a limited capacity.
Our school’s leadership team will continue to study evolving guidance and will base decisions about community events on that information. This information will be communicated to families as soon as relevant decisions are made.
As an independent school, it is likely that AIS will be charged with determining its own capacity limits within the COVID-19 context. That said, it is possible that the state may reimpose capacity requirements based on numbers, ratios, or percentages. In the event that we are compelled to operate under such requirements, we will provide families a schedule of when certain grade levels are permitted to be on campus. For grade levels that are not on campus, families should anticipate continued engagement in academics through our distance learning protocols.
Yes. AIS follows guidance from the following agencies:
- Austin Public Health
- Texas Department of State Health Services
- Centers for Disease Control
- World Health Organization
AIS also benefits from the added guidance and practical support of the following organizations:
- French Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Agency for French Education Abroad (French Ministry of Education)
- Texas Education Agency
- Independent Schools Association of the Southwest
- National Association of Independent Schools
- Texas Private Schools Association
- Academy for International School Heads
It is important to note that AIS’s operations may be impacted by executive order of the Governor of Texas as seen in the 2019-2020 school year. The effects of any such impact will be sent to the community as they become available.