Despite concerns over the spread of coronavirus, school districts in Central Texas have not canceled classes, with the Texas Education Agency pointing out how doing so can be tough on economically disadvantaged students.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testified at the Texas House Committee on Public Health Tuesday, as state lawmakers were briefed on the current Coronavirus situation.

“There have been questions raised about students eligible for subsidized breakfast and lunch through school districts, about what happens if they’re not able to come to school,” Morath said.

In his testimony, Morath said many students rely on free and reduced lunches, and cancelling classes could hinder their access to food.

“I don’t think there is an easy fix. School districts are logistically well-designed to administer food service while they’re in operation. They’re not logistically designed to deliver meals. That’s a new feature to the school if they don’t have it previously, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to stand up successfully for a 14-day period,” Morath said. “School districts, themselves, are in charge of determinations as to whether or not they remain open or closed.”

Donna Raskin is the founder of the organization – Austin Kids Can! – and echoes these concerns.

Her organization focuses on providing after school programs for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, specializing in computer science, coding, and social and emotional learning, She says she hears these concerns over schools closing from families.

“Parents are relying on the school to watch their kids,” Raskin said.

Below are the total number and percentage of economically disadvantaged students in Central Texas school districts, according to the Texas Academic Performance Report for the 2018-2019 school year:

  • Austin ISD: 79,787 total students; 42,655 disadvantaged, 53.5 %
  • Pflugerville ISD: 25,361 total; 12,937 disadvantaged, 51%
  • Round Rock ISD: 50,204 total; 13,990 disadvantaged, 27.9 %
  • Manor ISD: 9,445 total; 6,842 disadvantaged, 72.4 %
  • Del Valle ISD: 10,828 total; 9,144 disadvantaged, 84.4 %
  • Leander ISD: 39,939 total; 8,107 disadvantaged, 20.3 %
  • Hays CISD: 19,859 total; 10,214 disadvantaged, 51.4 %

Austin ISD provided the following statement over the possibility of cancelling school:

At this point, we can’t speak to hypotheticals, but we are monitoring the situation continuously and would apply a different lens should there be an active case closely affiliated with one of our campuses. The risk remains low in our area and any decisions would be made with the interest of our families in mind and in consultation with health authorities.

Officials with AISD tell CBS Austin 32,835 out of the 80,911 students district-wide get free lunches, which is 41 percent of the population.

Round Rock ISD reports 15,988 students have access to free and reduced lunches this year, out of a total student population of 51,009, making up 31 percent.

In Hays CISD, 10,180 students out of the 20,961 in the entire district – or 49 percent – received free lunches.

“[The free lunches are] what they rely upon, and they have minimal budgets. When that’s not available, alternatives really need to be looked at,” Raskin said.

Morath also mentioned the challenges for working parents who would have to take off work to care for their children, should school districts cancel classes.

“This is why local school districts are going to have to make that decision, because there are ripple effects to closures when they are planned. For a family of that circumstance, you’re talking about a significant economic disruption because they are going to have to – in some cases – stay home from work. That may result in job loss. So, there’s any number of ancillary effects, which is why you have local school systems making this decision locally to try and make the best decision for its students,” Morath said.

Raskin says parents who cannot get off from work would be forced to make tough financial decisions if school is temporarily closed.

“It impacts them economically by having to pay a sitter, or somebody to watch their kids all day long, rather than it being paid for by the school,” Raskin said.

In addition to these out-of-school challenges, Raskin also says students’ educational experiences could suffer by being away from classes. She worries this could undo the progress organizations like her’s have made.

“What the schools do is they try to put the learning online. A percentage of homes, though, can’t afford to have a computer at their home,” Raskin said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports 21 confirmed Coronavirus cases so far, which do not include patients brought into and being quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

This story was originally published by CBS Austin, and can be found here.