Charleston Co. Schools spends $1.2 million on virtual academy they may not fully use

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020 at 6:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District spent $1.2 million creating its Virtual Academy, its long-term virtual option, but part of it may now be scrapped for the start of the year.

The change comes after around 12,000 students enrolled in the option last week. It was more than double what the district was expecting. In July, only about 6,000 students showed interest in the program.

“We weren’t expecting to have this much more than our expected enrollment,” Chief Academic Officer Karolyn Belcher said.

Virtual Academy was designed to be its own independent school within the district, but because of the unexpected demand it’s now going to be combined with the “temporary remote” option at the beginning of the year for elementary school students.

Temporary remote was designed for those who wanted to start virtually but eventually saw their child going back into the classroom later this year if case numbers continued to decline.

Right now, school district officials are deciding whether or not they want to use the Florida Virtual curriculum, which they already purchased, or its core curriculum for these students, spokesperson Andy Pruitt said.

“Our Virtual Academy plan was to have a combination of live instruction online and independent work- which is how we are approaching the temporary remote option,” Pruitt said.

The new curriculum was just one of the costs of the $1.2 million spent on the Virtual Academy. Other expenses included hiring teachers, training, and licensing for an initial group of students.

At the middle and high school level, not much will change. Many of them were already planning their own virtual academies connected to their school, Belcher said.

If virus numbers continue to decline and more students choose to return to in-person classes, the Virtual Academy could become its own independent school again.

“We may have to centralize it again and can at the end of the quarter,” Belcher said.

All of the county’s teachers are being trained in virtual instruction, and some may be shifted to teach kids enrolled in the academy depending on the need at their home school. No teacher will be required to teach more than their contracted course load, Belcher said.

Parents should be notified by Sept. 1, at the latest, about which option their child will be enrolled in to start the year on Sept. 8.

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