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Staying virtual: JCPS and NAFC offer fully virtual school options

Students whose families are concerned about health problems or who found a niche in online school will be able to continue learning this way in the 2021-22 year.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The pandemic changed how a lot of students experience school. More people than ever are learning completely virtually, and the option might stick around for some districts.

Tuesday night, the JCPS board approved a completely virtual school option for students in grades 6-12. What is now called Jefferson County High School will become the Pathfinder School of Innovation.

Jefferson County High School is currently home to students 16 and older who prefer a non-traditional school option. They are able to work at their own pace on a flexible schedule. Some take classes virtually, others are in-person.

JCPS said some students who were enrolled in traditional schools found a niche in virtual learning this year.

“There are virtual learners out there that will thrive in that kind of setting,” JCPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Carmen Coleman said. “So we knew that we needed to make that possible and we wanted to make it a first choice.”

Students at Pathfinder will check in weekly with their teachers, and the school will establish a pace all students should be following to make sure they are keeping up. They will also have an introduction to this new school at the beginning of the year to help them develop habits that will help them succeed.

Those who choose this option must transfer Pathfinder, and can take part in virtual extracurricular activities — but will not be able to play team sports.

Right now, JCPS leaders said they felt this should only be an option for middle and high school students, and that elementary students need in-person instruction.  

New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation leaders agree. The NAFC school board also approved a virtual academy for the 2021-22 school year. Unlike at JCPS, fifth graders go to middle school at NAFC. However, the virtual option is only available for 6-12th grade students.

“We really did a lot of work on what we thought was the most developmentally appropriate age for students to learn online,” NAFC Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steve Griffin said. “We feel like the younger students really need that face to face instruction.”

That came as a disappointment for parent Heather Jones. She has two current fourth grade students with asthma who have been attending Mount Tabor Elementary School from home. Jones felt that this was the best option for her kids' health.

“I was kind of taken back because I feel like if they're old enough to go to middle school in fifth grade, then they should be given the same opportunities as those students that are in middle school,” Jones said.

Jones’s kids are too young to get vaccines, and she wants to keep her kids home until that changes. Jones has been looking at other districts, private school and even homeschooling for her kids.

“There's a lot of different options that we might have to consider if something is not changed,” Jones said.

Right now, 2,000 of NAFC’s 11,000 students learn virtually, less than 20%. Dr. Griffin expects many of those students to stay virtual, and he still wants those kids to stay in the district.

“We feel like we provide an educational opportunity second to none,” Dr. Griffin said. “We don't want to lose any families, due to the pandemic.”

Like JCPS, virtual students will not be able to participate in sports. The virtual academy will be a completely different school than any of the middle and high schools that exist right now.

Introducing this virtual academy will also change the workload for teachers. This school year, most NAFC teachers have been teaching both in-person and virtual students. Next year, teachers will either be teaching at the virtual academy, or in-person.

There is a webinar Wednesday night where NAFC parents can ask questions they might have about this new school. You can find a link here.

RELATED: JCPS Board votes for permanent virtual school; approves merger of two schools and moving Grace James Academy

RELATED: Families, teachers say digital divide among students is more pronounced amid COVID-19

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