Figures show nearly quarter of Pickerington students going virtual for classes

NATE ELLIS
nellis@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

A Pickerington Schools official last week said the district expects roughly 20% of students will opt to take classes virtually this year rather than attend classes in person once buildings are reopened.

As the district considers plans to reopen its buildings amid the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the district announced Aug. 6 the first day of school would be pushed back from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31.

That move provides district staff more time to prepare to return to buildings and start the 2020-21 school year under a new hybrid plan that would have students attend classes in buildings twice a week and take courses online the other three days.

By placing students in two separate "cohorts," the district intends to limit the number of students in buildings each day to roughly 50% of normal attendance, allowing for social distancing in classrooms and hallways.

Additionally, under the district's "Flexible Learning 2.0 Plan," students were given the option of taking classes online remotely for the entire school year by enrolling in a Virtual Learning Academy.

The deadline for enrolling in the VLA was pushed back from July 26 to July 28. As of Aug. 6, Pickerington Schools public-relations director Crystal Davis said, the final number of enrollees at the high school level had not been tallied.

As for the lower levels, Davis said, 2,797 elementary school students were signed up to attend classes through the district's hybrid model, while 818 were enrolled in the all-virtual program.

Davis said 1,369 middle school students were set to take part in this year's hybrid model, and 311 were enrolled in the virtual academy.

"Before we reopened the VLA, extended the deadline, we had roughly 15% of the total student population who had enrolled in the VLA vs. hybrid," Davis said. "Now, I'm hearing we have around 20%."

Davis said the 20% projection for virtual-academy enrollments districtwide was a "very rough estimate," and said the district expected to have more precise numbers the following week.

She said the district extended the academy's application deadline due to requests from parents.

Pickerington teachers will be assigned to teach the Virtual Learning Academy courses, Davis said.

Students in grades K-12 take part in the same curriculum, regardless of whether they take classes as part of the hybrid model or through the virtual academy.

"In order to better serve our students with the highest quality of education, we have decided to align the VLA courses with the district curriculum and resources offered in the buildings," the district announced on its website Aug. 4. "This will not only provide for an improved educational experience, it will provide consistency across the district.

"However, please note that because of the entirely remote experience of the VLA, some course offerings may be unavailable."

In keeping with the goal of consistency, Davis said, students who enrolled in the virtual academy must remain in the program for the entire 2020-21 school year.

"PLSD is assigning staff to the VLA based on number enrolled, and this means that we cannot have a VLA teacher start the year with 30 students and end with 10," she said. "It is not financially feasible to do that.

"Second, with teachers assigned to the VLA, there will be fewer classroom teachers and fewer seats. There likely would not be open spots available for many students to return to."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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