In many places, students began returning for part-time in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year, as vaccines became available for school-aged children, and the vast majority of districts have reopened full-time this school year. Still, school officials in most places offered a virtual option, though many required students to prove a documented need, medical or otherwise, to enroll in online classes.
However, as this school year draws to a close, some school officials are announcing that online learning will not be an option next year, or will be limited to a low number. They argue that students do poorly in an online environment, a claim backed up by a wealth of data from the pandemic – including a recent study by McKinsey and Company which found that children, on average, fell four months behind in math and reading during distance education.
Groups call on DC to classify more children at risk of school failure
In Virginia, public school officials in Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest school district with about 178,000 students, announced in early March that the school district would no longer offer its virtual program after the end of this school year. Instead, the school district will make “home schooling” — an educational program for students unable to leave their homes that existed before the pandemic — available to “students at significant health risk,” it said. writes Fairfax officials in an email to the families.
“Community health experts advise that exemptions to in-person education should revert to pre-pandemic criteria now that school-aged children are eligible for vaccination,” officials wrote. “We believe in two things: our schools are safe for all students and our students are more successful at learning in person.”
Nearby Arlington Public Schools, with about 27,000 students, also decided to end their virtual offerings after this year. The approximately 600 students enrolled in the program “will return to their home schools”, spokesman Frank Bellavia said.
At a meeting in mid-February, said head of school support Kimberly Graves the district’s online program, which struggled to get started in September due to a lack of staff, was “behind”. She said virtual students struggle more academically than students who learn in person.
And in Prince William County, school officials announced Wednesday that the district will only offer 1,000 seats in an online learning program for K-8 students. To enroll, students will need to show that they have “a medical condition associated with a weakened immune system” or that they are the sibling of a student with a medical condition.
Other students who meet strict academic requirements, proving that they have “above average levels of motivation, self-regulation and independent work habits”, can apply and will be entered into a lottery for the remaining places, remaining after acceptance of students suffering from health problems. Prince William has approximately 2,000 virtual studentsrepresenting approximately 2% of its student body.
However, both the Alexandria and Loudoun school systems plan to continue offering online learning. Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said Friday that 270 elementary students and 226 high school students — of the district’s 81,000 — are enrolled in a virtual school. Byard said the school board has decided to expand its online program to elementary, middle and high school levels through the 2022-2023 school year.
At Alexandria City Public Schools, which serves about 16,000 students, virtual administrator Izora Everson said the district will continue to offer online programs for families who prefer it next year.
Everson said about 500 students have participated in virtual learning this school year, and officials expect that number to drop next year, “as covid concerns diminish.”
Everson added, “Schools will review information from families requesting virtual learning to determine if their students have the academic level necessary to participate and succeed in virtual learning for the upcoming school year.”
Enrollment fell and fell again in schools that were practically functioning
Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, meanwhile, will offer a full-time online academy for its seventh through 12th graders next year. But the program is not for students who fear learning in person due to covid-19, depending on the school system. Instead, it’s aimed at “students who want to make online learning their approach to education throughout their K-12 careers,” according to the school system’s website.
In DC, the public school system offers a virtual academy for students who meet certain medical requirements. Some charter schools also offer virtual slots.
The city said no decision has been made on virtual offerings next year.
Nicole Asbury and Perry Stein contributed to this report.