By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to continue offering students the Virtual Virginia online learning option for the 2022-2023 school year.
Virtual Virginia is a program of the Virginia Department of Education and offers online courses in core subjects, world languages, electives, and advanced placement courses.
The program was “designed to meet the needs of students who would otherwise be unable to take these courses due to a lack of availability or scheduling conflicts within their school,” according to the VDOE website.
For example, if a student wanted to learn Chinese, but the student’s school only offered Spanish and French, the student could take courses in Chinese through Virtual Virginia.
The use of Virtual Virginia expanded last year during the gradually slowing COVID-19 pandemic, when many Virginia school divisions were preparing for the current school year with the goals of bringing the majority of students back to school for in-person learning five a days a week but also offering a virtual learning option.
Accomack students who wished to participate in Virtual Virginia this year had to apply last spring; requirements included reliable internet at home and regular participation and good grades in Accomack schools’ virtual learning program.
The students who were accepted into the program are taking all their courses through Virtual Virginia this year. The classes are taught by teachers across the U.S., but the students remain enrollees of Accomack County Public Schools.
Coordinator of Student Services Della Jordan said about 60 Accomack students (out of more than 4,800 students in the school division) have participated in Virtual Virginia during both semesters of the current school year.
Jordan noted that Virtual Virginia is adding new courses for the upcoming school year at no additional cost to the school division.
Accomack covers Virtual Virginia’s enrollment fees, which are charged per course, per student in grades 6 to 12.
The enrollment fees are based on a school division’s composite index, a number calculated by the state to represent a locality’s ability to pay for its public education.
Accomack’s composite index for 2022 through 2024 is approximately 0.34 out of a possible 0.80, which would place it in the lowest of the three levels on the Virtual Virginia enrollment fee scale. (Accomack would pay $125 per student, course, and semester.)
Online classes aren’t the best fit for all students, but some thrive in the virtual learning environment.
During the public comment period, Grayson Chesser, of Saxis, who served on Accomack’s board of supervisors, recommended the school board approve Virtual Virginia for another year.
Chesser said he has two granddaughters who are enrolled in the program and are “soaking it up like sponges.”
He asserted the school board should continue Virtual Virginia to keep students in the public school system who might otherwise be enrolled in private school or homeschooled by their parents.
Jordan acknowledged one of the reasons she recommended the school board’s continued approval of the program was to appeal to parents who would homeschool their children if the virtual learning was option was no longer available.
Accomack students who wish to enroll in Virtual Virginia for next year will go through an application process similar to last year’s. Applications are due May 3. Virtual Virginia enrollment began March 15 and will continue through Nov. 15.
Coordinator of Student Health Services Tonya Martin reported that as of March 15, Accomack County had two new cases of COVID-19 and a seven-day average of two cases per day.
Accomack schools had no teachers or staff members and only two students who had tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 15.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, Accomack’s COVID-19 community level remains low, Martin said.