Virus to drive families to virtuals? Concerned parents may avoid waiting game and worrying

Originally published in Indiana Education Insight – May 22, 2020

Virtual schools in Indiana are reporting a significant surge in interest and
inquiries for the upcoming school year, although this has not necessarily
translated into an increase in new enrollments, as families wait to see just
what the Governor will announce in July.

In case they need to serve more students, virtual schools are starting to add
more seats. Indiana Connections Academy, part of the Pearson Online and Blended Learning network, is requesting an amendment to its charter agreement with Ball State University to increase its enrollment cap by 1,000 spots. This would allow the full-time virtual school to enroll a maximum of 7,000 students.

Indiana Digital Learning School, operated by K12 Inc., has requested and
received approval from Union School Corporation to lift its enrollment cap
for 2020-2021 by 2,000 students. As a result, IDLS will be able to enroll up
6,000 students this Fall.

Safety is the number one reason given by parents for choosing virtual schools, said Kevin Chavous, president of academics, policy, and schools for K12 Inc., during a Zoom webinar held this month by The Center for Education Reform. “If parents don’t feel that their local district is safe, they are going to be looking for alternatives,” he cautioned. Virtual schools have three major advantages in this new normal, said Chavous, who was born and raised in Indianapolis and graduated from Wabash College. They offer a secure technology platform, curriculum that’s already tailor made for virtual delivery, and teachers who are skilled at doing online learning well.

“Probably the most important thing is teacher training,” Chavous says. “A
great teacher in brick and mortar can be great online. But a great teacher in
brick and mortar who is not trained in online will not be great. Teacher
training is something districts need to really, really focus on.”

Whenever attendance is not safe or must be limited, schools will need blended learning. Even if schools are able to open for in-person instruction
in August or September, there could be a resurgence of the virus later on, and because of physical distancing requirements, class sizes will have to be
reduced, possibly to 10-15 kids. Expect enrollment splits, where half of
students attend in the morning, and half come in during the afternoon, or
half attend on even-numbered days and half come in on odd-numbered days.

When students are not at school, learning would continue online.
Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School
Business Officials, has been in non-stop Zoom meetings with school officials
all across the state. “It’s the same message everywhere,” he said. “Everyone is concerned that parents are saying they are not going to send their kids back, or they are going to delay when they send their kids back.”

Opening up school while adhering to physical distancing is going to be an
extraordinary challenge, says Costerison. Take transportation. If buses are
limited to one student per seat, will districts need to purchase more buses?
Run more routes? Hire more drivers? “I don’t know of a school district that
wasn’t struggling to find bus drivers even before the pandemic,” says
Costerison.

To learn more about Indiana Digital Learning School, visit https://indls.k12.com/

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