Virginia Virtual Academy to Close, Leaving Families Stranded

As I was doing some early morning reading over the weekend, I was saddened to see some unfortunate news for online students in Virginia. The Carroll County School Board recently voted to close its online learning program, leaving the 350+ students who attend the Virginia Virtual Academy to scramble to find a new school to enroll at in time for the fall.

The Virginia Virtual Academy opened in 2009, serving both as Virginia’s first and largest statewide full-time virtual program. The academy provides online learning for students, grades K-8, who sought an alternative to traditional schooling.

Despite its successful run, the school board voted to cancel its contract with K12 Inc. last month, citing administrative and liability concerns. Carroll County School Superintendent Strader Blankenship also expressed concern over the small percentage of students enrolled at the virtual academy being actual residents of Carroll county.

Unfortunately, Virginia’s state constitution forces schools to offer an online curriculum through local high school districts, negating the perceived need for a full-time virtual academy, despite the number of other advantages these institutions offer students, including safety, the comfort of learning from home, less exposure to bullying, flexible school schedules to accommodate other interests, etc.

Virtual schools have grown in popularity in the past couple of years, as now more than 275,000 students around the country are enrolled full-time at online learning institutions, showing an estimated growth of more than 30% each year, according to Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Perhaps the most discouraging part about the decision to close the Virginia Virtual Academy is that while the vote took place last month, students were not informed of the decision until late last week, placing hundreds of families in the vulnerable and stressful situation of having to scramble to find a new school to enroll their students in for the upcoming fall semester.

Those parents and their families deserve better than this. Online learning has proven to be a very powerful resource for young students. A one-size-fits-all approach to education is incredibly impractical, especially considering the abundance of cutting-edge technology we have available to us. Students deserve to have options that suit their learning styles. Hopefully this is only a minor bump in the road for online learning.

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