Some Texas school districts are requiring in-person instruction again, leaving parents scrambling for options

Kasey Evans opted to home-school her children — Hunter Vandeberghe, 7, Bella Evans, 3, and Michael Evans, 3 — when their school district’s remote learning option went away.                    Credit: Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune
Kasey Evans opted to home-school her children — Hunter Vandeberghe, 7, Bella Evans, 3, and Michael Evans, 3 — when their school district’s remote learning option went away. Credit: Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune

The most Jessica Elbel’s kids have ventured out of the house since the pandemic began is to play in the yard or sit in the back seat of the car while their mom or dad picked up a curbside grocery order.

It hasn’t been easy, but Elbel and her husband, Donald, have gone to great lengths to shield their family from COVID-19 exposure. Donald Elbel went so far as to leave his job to help their 7- and 9-year-old kids with virtual schooling.

So when she got the message from the school district earlier this month saying that in-person classes would be mandatory, Jessica Elbel began to panic.

“The District will transition back to 100% in-person learning. The last day of remote learning will be Friday, October 16th,” said the update from Clay Rosenbaum, superintendent of the Blanco Independent School District Superintendent. The message was sent to the families of the roughly 1,000 students enrolled in the small school district in Texas Hill Country. It was posted a week before students were to return.

As the numbers of people infected and hospitalized by the virus tick back up across the state, at least six Texas school districts eliminated the option for remote learning and forced students, faculty and staff to return to the classroom, with few exceptions.

For most families afraid of returning, school districts provided three options: home school, switch districts or enroll in an online school. But families say these options aren’t easily accessible on such short notice and can be cost prohibitive.

“I don’t appreciate being put in a position where I feel like I don’t have a choice,” Jessica Elbel said.

School experts say gradually more Texas students will be brought back into the classroom. So far the school districts to make the change are smaller and some serve more rural populations.