Parents in this school district plead for virtual learning for all students

RICHMOND, Texas (KTRK) -- With thousands of children back in the classroom across the Houston area during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents in at least one school district are making a group effort to plead for expanded virtual learning options.

A group of Fort Bend ISD residents has asked the district to open virtual learning to any student who wants it.

Earlier this month, parents organized a petition to send to the school board and asked for mask mandates, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order preventing the requirement.

RELATED: Fort Bend, Conroe, Cy-Fair ISDs to offer limited virtual learning option for some students

Right now, Fort Bend offers virtual learning for a limited number of students due to funding, officials have said.

More than 5,000 applied for the program this school year, but only around 1,000 students met the criteria, which was generally due to medical conditions of the children or immediate family members.

"I think we should be given a choice to go virtual, and I think the ISD should support it," said Bhavani Natesan, a Fort Bend ISD parent.

Worries over in-person learning, the rapid spread of the delta variant, and children who are too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, have amplified the concerns of Natesan and others, but the costs of remote learning has forced districts like Fort Bend to hold the line on the number of students involved.

Fort Bend students in pre-k through 6th grade who were accepted into the virtual learning program won't begin that phase of instruction until Aug. 30. They'll attend remotely through the fall semester of school.

SEE ALSO: Houston schools report 40% more COVID cases overnight

ABC13 has reached out to Fort Bend ISD officials about the virtual learning efforts.

RELATED: Parents and teachers say state leaders have stripped them of weapons against COVID-19

While Texas provided funds for remote learning during the start of the pandemic, a bill that would have funded it for this year died in the Texas Legislature after the House Democrats broke quorum. Another bill that did pass made it impossible for the TEA to use the same emergency powers to fund remote learning this year, according to an agency spokesperson.

Many of those unvaccinated are Texas school children. According to state data, less than a quarter of Texans aged 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, and no vaccine has yet been approved for students younger than 12, an age group in more than half of the school system's grade levels.

Children are much less likely than adults to get very ill or die from COVID-19, according to several experts and studies. However, complications of the disease have killed some children. And experts warn that children can spread the virus to other members of the family.

Our ABC13 partners at The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.
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