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Charlottesville approves limited, application-based virtual school option

The Charlottesville school division wants to bring all students back into the buildings next school year but will offer a limited virtual option for students in third through eighth grades.

Families interested in the virtual option will have to apply, and principals will look at how a student did this year and other factors in determining whether to grant the request, though the criteria is evolving. The division is required by state law to offer five days a week of in-person instruction for the coming academic year, and outlined plans to do so in April.

The parameters of the virtual program were presented to board members during their June 10 meeting. The School Board signed off on the plan at its meeting Thursday.

Board members questioned the lack of a virtual option for preschool through second grade, especially as the COVID-19 vaccine most likely will not be available to those students by August. Chief Academic Officer Katina Otey said that in-person instruction is most beneficial for those youngest learners.

“The fact that we aren’t opening it up to that age group is concerning to me,” board Chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said.

The division has projected that about 3% of its students would pick the virtual option, according to results of a non-binding survey. Few preschool through second-grade families have expressed an interest in the virtual option, Otey said.

Acting Superintendent Jim Henderson said the plan provides guidelines and that the requests of families will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Board members said they wanted that flexibility made clear on the application, so families of the younger students would reach out.

Henderson said the goal is to meet students’ needs and serve the community.

“Our responsibility as a school division is to support our families,” he said.

At the June 10 meeting, Henderson said the division needs to get students reading by the end of second grade.

“What we know is that it’s more powerful face to face,” he said.

For the virtual option at the elementary level, the division is planning to have one third grade class and one fourth grade class. Virtual students at Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle will be worked into the block schedule, though specific staffing will depend on enrollment.

Students in the virtual program will be required to have their cameras on and will participate in more synchronous time than compared with the past school year.

“The expectation is that they will be logged in all day for mostly synchronous instruction,” said Summerlyn Thompson, principal of Johnson Elementary, during the presentation at the June 10 meeting.

Henderson said Buford students won’t have the same access to electives as those attending in person.

“When they go virtual, they are giving up something,” he said. “We’ll do what we can to meet their needs.”

Charlottesville High School will not have an entirely virtual option. Students can supplement their course load with classes through Virtual Virginia and with select classes at the school that will be offered virtually.

CHS Principal Eric Irizarry said that with the complexities of scheduling classes, it would be difficult to piece together a full-time virtual schedule that allows students to graduate on time.

The lack of virtual options concerned Je’Saun Johnson, the student representative on the board and a freshman at CHS.

“When it comes to this virtual option, we have this optimistic view of the pandemic winding down,” Johnson said at the June 10 meeting. “… We still have families in situations that require them to be virtual.”

Johnson said he wanted to see more options for families, adding that he had to watch his younger brother during the past school year.

“If my younger brother has that virtual option but I don’t, who is going to watch him?” he said. “There needs to be more attention on those situations instead of statistics that are being thrown around.”

Board member Jennifer McKeever said at the June 10 meeting that it was critical for the division to understand the needs of families.

“I think this division has a great track record of meeting family’s needs if we know about them,” she said. “Families need to reach out and ask for help and support.”


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