Uncertainty in school districts leads some Arkansas parents to virtual academies

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EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) 8/2/21 — As school begins to ramp up, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding what the year will look like.

Virtual or in person learning? Masks or no masks? Those are questions the Arkansas legislature and schools districts are faced with but some parents aren’t waiting on those officials to decide on an answer for their kids.

“I did enroll them on K12 online learning. So, we will be virtual this year,” Rendy Lewis said.

Lewis’ two sons will be attending Arkansas Virtual Academy in August. They had been previously been enrolled in the Lafayette School District.

With cases rising and the district’s option to opt out of offering a virtual option, Lewis decided to enroll her kids in the virtual academy earlier this summer.

“It’s frightening,” she said. “That’s a real tough situation for the parents.”

As of Monday morning, Lafayette County School District Superintendent says the district has submitted a waiver to come up with an alternative options for students.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, district that did not submit a Digital Leaning Process over the summer had an additional opportunity to submit a plan by this morning at 9 a.m.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education says it will support districts in requesting waivers to allow them to offer a temporary virtual option with a full plan having to be submitted by September 1.

If a plan is not received by the deadline, waivers granted under this request will expire immediately, according to the ADE.

Although Lafayette County School District Superintendent is revisiting its plan, Lewis would have preferred the district make that a plan of action from the beginning. She says her sons learned virtually last school year and had a successful year.

“You can leave it up to the parent or children,” Lewis said.

Superintendent Robert Edwards says there weren’t many parents interested in the fully virtual option. The El Dorado School District also saw decreased numbers in its virtual option, according to Superintendent Jim Tucker.

While public schools’ virtual enrollment is declining, Arkansas Virtual Academy is seeing an increased number of parents and students enroll into its program.

“We are starting to see an uptick in enrollment especially since we’re seeing an uptick in the Covid variant,” Head Teacher, Amy Johnson said. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now for parents with what schools will do.”

The Arkansas legislature is expected to meet this week in a special session to discuss lifting a mask mandate ban for schools.

Johnson has had many people enroll into the virtual academy because they don’t want to their kids to wear masks.

“I was talking to a family this weekend who wasn’t really sure they wanted to do vaccines. They have some kids who are below the age but They were certainly not in love with their students having to go back and wear the masks,” Johnson said.

The Camden Fairview School District also opted to not offer a virtual option this school year. We have reached out to the superintendent multiple times but haven’t received a response yet on whether or not they have submitted a waiver to the ADE.

To learn more about the Arkansas Virtual Academy, you can visit this link.

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