Thousands of FL parents choose virtual school options as COVID cases climb

PINELLAS COUNTY, Florida – Hundreds of parents in Tampa Bay are rushing to enroll their children in virtual school programs as cases of COVID-19 increase.

Nicole Boyle, a mother of three in Tarpon Springs, was hoping COVID-19 conditions would be better in time for this school year, but says she sent him 3rd grader in the classroom feels too risky.

“There have certainly been several times where I have spoken to my husband and I am in tears because he has to go back to school, but his safety comes first,” she explained.

Boyle’s twin 7e-the class girls, Devon and Ireland, are vaccinated and will return to school on Tuesday in County Pinellas. His son, Jakob, will learn online with Pinellas Virtual School Live! K-5 program.

“There really isn’t a lot of protection in place as most or all of elementary school children cannot get immunized yet. So that was my concern, but the virtual option makes me feel better, ”she added.

Local school districts are seeing a rush of parents signing up for virtual options. 4,000 parents alone in Hillsborough County have opted for virtual school, nearly half of them enrolled last weekend.

Enrollment at the Hillsborough Virtual School is closed, but the district is still working to accept hundreds of students into the program.

In Pinellas, registration for the virtual program closes on August 20e. So far, 431 students have registered for Live! K-5 program which includes daily live instruction. Pinellas County also offers a virtual program for students in Grades 6 to 12 where students work at their own pace and check in weekly with a teacher. This school year, the district added more questions to help with the questions.

Full-time enrollment in the Florida Virtual School 9-12 program is closed, but their K-8 enrollment goes through August 13e. Students can also register for their flex program at any time.

“Especially with the flex program, if you think you wouldn’t want to stay all year, you just want to do the first semester, I think that’s a good option,” added Robin Winder, senior director of the instruction.

ABC Action News has also learned that most virtual programs (including the Florida Virtual School full-time program and Hillsborough County Virtual Program) require a higher FSA test score to enter. Education officials tell us it’s to make sure a student is successful with the program.

ABC Action News asked Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis if the admission criteria would be lowered instead of the COVID-19 pandemic and parents wanting more virtual options. He said no, adding, “Not all students can learn independently, so there has to be a standard by which a child is successful.”

Davis added, however, that support systems will be in place to help students complete the program successfully.

Boyle says that although the decision was difficult, she is anxiously awaiting her family’s hybrid approach for the school year.

“As parents, we need to do what’s best for us and for our families. It won’t be the same for everyone, but if you are looking for an option I think it’s a good option to try and I am grateful that it is available, ”she added.

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