Making Plans for Virtual School? You’re Not Alone
Planning ahead can make all the difference for students, families and equity.
still no crystal ball able to accurately predict what even the near
future might look like, many schools are preparing to cover multiple
bases in the fall.
Choice has a way of
making planning more complicated, but more choices and options are
also better for families. School leaders have been listening to
feedback all year (at various volumes and intensities), and it’s
making an impact. A survey of over 375 school leaders taking part in
a RAND research panel reported about 20% of their schools will offer
a virtual option in 2021–2022.
What are the main
considerations for setting up virtual school? Let’s explore a
It’s often more
cost effective to keep virtual schools within the district, rather
than defaulting to families choosing a third-party option when the
accommodation they request is unavailable. Your student information
system should be equipped to handle multiple school sites, and a
virtual school is no different. Rather than an additional physical
building, a virtual option can be added as its own site.
This is effective
for many reasons. It keeps the planning and FTE separate from
brick-and-mortar counterparts. It allows for students to move within
sites, but to maintain a home site, rather than trying to mark which
virtual students are “attending” a brick-and-mortar school
remotely. Grades, reporting, and other data flows up to the district
level as usual, but it’s easy to see which site is virtual and
which is in-person.
Parent Opt-in and Equity
Just like setting up
a brick-and-mortar school, population is going to guide the budget
allocated for virtual school staffing. The interest level in virtual
school can vary depending on where schools are located, community
spread, and other high-level considerations. It also depends on
demographics like race and income level. Families of color and
low-income families were more likely to choose remote learning during
the 2020-21 school year.
This trend worries
some superintendents as preliminary survey results
confirm the same groups of families are pursuing virtual options for
the upcoming school year. When demographics skew heavily, equity
questions loom. Will virtual schools, with all the challenges of
online work, widen an already worrisome gap of achievement? The hope
is that by making virtual school a fully functioning part of the
district system, equity issues can be nipped in the bud.
On a similar note:
virtual options have allowed certain types of students to thrive.
These students might include those who struggle to focus in a normal
classroom setting, those who have faced significant social hardship
including bullying, and those who have chronic health problems. These
students may feel virtual school has finally allowed them to become
engaged in school the way their peers are.
virtual school has the potential to be very different from emergency
response virtual school. In preparation, districts are simply
sticking to the same modus operandi they show to
brick-and-mortar schools: what’s best for students, what’s
possible in our budget, and what will result in the healthiest
Werra is a writer at Skyward’s Advancing K12 blog. She spent years
learning and tutoring at public schools and universities, then went
on to scrutinize the inner workings of leadership, practice, learning
data, social-emotional learning and ed tech in K–12 schools. In
addition to observing education trends, she volunteers as an adult
literacy tutor and helps students gain job-seeking skills.