New Reality: School Board seeks classification of grades 4-12 as ‘virtual school’

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By Bill Short

The Millington School Board has voted to seek state classification of the district’s grades 4-12 as a “virtual school” for the 2021-22 academic year.

Board members took the action during their March 1 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Marlon Evans and seconded by Cody Childress.

Matthew Bowser, director of Information Technology for the school system, told the board that the administration conducted a survey of the parents of all Millington students. Among the 300 responses it generated, 40 percent of the parents said they want to send their children to virtual school.

But Bowser said that, before the administration could even ask the state if that is possible for this district, the board had to approve the idea.

Although the application will now be prepared, he noted that the amount of information the district must provide is “rather rigorous.” It must show that the district has “different frameworks” in place before the state will approve the request.

Bowser said grades 4-12 were chosen, because the administration believes they will be the “most successful.”

“In Pre-K through third grade, students are still learning to read,” he noted. “And it would be very difficult to have virtual school if you can’t read the material. So, 4-12 is more about reading to learn.”

In response to a question by Childress, Bowser said the district will not have to make “mass purchases” of any additional equipment. It currently has what it needs to conduct a virtual school.

“We even have most of the documentation that the application requires,” he said, “because we had to do that just to stand a virtual school this year.”

In the past, Bowser said, it was usually a year-long process for school districts to get an application approved by the state.

“But because of COVID-19, and because of everything that went on with our hybrid and virtual models,” he concluded, “we essentially had that year in place this year.”

To be classified as a virtual school, it must:

(1) use technology to deliver a “significant portion” of instruction to its students through the Internet in a virtual or remote setting;

(2) provide access to a “sequential curriculum” that meets or exceeds the standards adopted by the Tennessee Board of Education;

(3) provide the same length of time for learning opportunities required by state law (a minimum of 6.5 hours of instruction each day for 180 days);

(4) follow the requirements of state law regarding enforcement of compulsory attendance for students enrolled in the school;

(5) ensure that students meet participation requirements and make progress toward successful completion of courses;

(6) administer all state tests required of public school students in a proctored environment consistent with state guidelines;

(7) include within its annual evaluation: (a) the extent to which it demonstrates increases in student achievement and (b) its accountability and viability, as demonstrated by its academic, fiscal and operational performance;

(8) ensure that students with special needs, including those with disabilities and limited English proficiency, are not excluded from enrolling and participating in the school;

(9) assign a teacher to each course offered and each student enrolled in the course;

(10) ensure that all teachers employed are “endorsed” in their course content area and qualified to teach in Tennessee;

(11) provide instructional materials, access to an Internet connection and necessary technology to each family with a student enrolled in the school; and

(12) meet class size standards as established by state law. 

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