Sunday, September 19, 2021

Denton ISD reaffirms plans for K-8 Virtual Academy this school year

This week, Denton ISD leaders announced that plans for the district’s new K-8 Virtual Academy will move forward for the 2021-22 school year, even though the district did not receive support for the program from the Texas Education Agency or Texas Legislature.

In March, Denton ISD announced the establishment of the Virtual Academy, a permanent full-time online learning option for families with students who had success through online learning in the 2020-21 school year. The school, the first of its kind in the district, was planned based on the request of local families who wished to continue learning virtually and in anticipation of funding from the Texas Legislature, according to a district news release.In May, HB 1468, which could have funded virtual learning, died due to a legislative deadline. The district requested a waiver from the Texas Education Agency to move forward under the current state funding formula, but the waiver was denied.

Based on that decision, Denton ISD has committed Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds to support the campus, according to the district, which estimated it will receive $22 million in state and federal support.

With the announcement from the Centers for Disease Control that a vaccine for children under the age of 12 will not be approved until well after the district’s start date of Aug. 12, the district’s local “Wait List” for students who wish to attend the Virtual Academy has grown, according to Denton ISD. More than 247 students enrolled prior to the district’s deadline last April 30, and 114 in-district students are currently on a “Wait List.”

“Since March of 2020, Texas has invested $1 billion in state and federal funds to provide students the ability to learn remotely,” said State Representative Keith Bell (R-Forney). “Now in the first called special session, I filed House Bill 256, a re-file of House Bill 1468. With the school year swiftly approaching and no avenue for providing this virtual option, students, parents, and school districts are at a standstill. Giving local school districts the ability to provide this option and protecting the significant investments made over the last year is imperative to the future of a 21st Century Texas public education.”

The fully remote learning option will provide an opportunity for students who thrive in the online environment to learn virtually. The staff is hand-selected from the district’s current educators who will dedicate all resources to support online instruction as well as new opportunities and offerings. The district will provide laptops for any student who opts to use a district-issued device.

“We know that there are people in our community who are ready for a full-time online learning option, and it is garnering interest not only here in Denton but across the state,” said Dr. Jamie Wilson, superintendent of schools. “We want to meet the learning needs of all students in our community. We’re not the first district to do this in Texas, several districts are looking into it, we’re just the first district to communicate to our families that we’re going to do everything in our power to make this happen. We want the citizens in our community to stay connected to our schools.”

Adding the new virtual campus also allows the district to reconnect with families and students who may have selected homeschool or disengaged with Denton ISD for a different form of instruction amidst the pandemic to return to the district and learn virtually for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond.

Middle school students who wish to participate in traditional extra-curricular activities/athletics will participate with their peers on their traditional campus while completing their course work online.

“By enrolling in the Academy, our families are committing to learning with our educators under the guidance of local leaders in this manner,” Wilson said. “We have staffed this school with stability and longevity in mind.”

Mark Smith
Mark Smith is the Digital Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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