Earlier this week the Baldwin County Public School Board announced that the county’s virtual school had reached capacity and would not be accepting more students. The announcement caused a stir on …
Earlier this week the Baldwin County Public School Board announced that the county’s virtual school had reached capacity and would not be accepting more students. The announcement caused a stir on social media as angry parents demanded their children be admitted just days before school began.
The original deadline to enroll into the virtual school was July 31. On Monday, Aug. 10, the virtual school reopened to accept more applications. The application process began at 9 a.m. By 9:20 a.m., the window to enroll had closed, with nearly 1,000 new students enrolling during that time.
“Our middle school/high school had around 300 students enrolled in the virtual school last year,” said Superintendent Eddie Tyler. “Right now we’re over 6,000 in virtual K-6 and virtual 7-12. Parents are upset, thinking we should be able to take everybody into the virtual school, but there’s a pupil/teacher ratio, so if we just kept climbing and kept going pretty soon you’re going to have one elementary teacher to about 100 students. We gave parents choices; they had a lot of time to make that choice.”
Some parents have taken to Facebook to voice their concerns to the school board. Many said they believed they would have the option to move their child from a brick and mortar school into the virtual school after the school season began.
Other parents have one child accepted into the virtual school while a second child’s application wasn’t submitted or approved on time. Still other parents with children with ADHD or autism said they were encouraged to send their children back to public school, but were considering virtual school once they saw how their children handled the new COVID-19 guidelines.
The school system never intended for students to move freely between the options.
“Somewhere close to 20% of our school population has gotten into virtual, so that frees up a lot of space in our brick and mortar schools, and that was the intent,” Tyler said. “One thing I want to clarify, this K-6 virtual school was created as an option for parents as opposed to brick and mortar, there was never anything ever said that every parent that applied for virtual would be guaranteed into virtual.”
Tyler said if parents were unable to enroll in the virtual school and are unsure about sending their children to a public school, there are also homeschool, private, and parochial schools. A waiting list has been created for parents still looking to enroll into the virtual school.
He added that he won’t charge one virtual schoolteacher with the care of 100 or more students, nor does he want to move teachers who want to teach in person to virtual.
“If we took everybody and put them in virtual school and closed brick and mortars, what about these parents that work?” Tyler said. “We know what that was like in the spring when everything shut down, so we’re not going to close our schools down, because there are families depending on our public schools, our brick and mortar schools, to drop their children off where they’ll be safe.”
Students who are currently enrolled in the virtual school will have the opportunity to transfer back to onsite locations by Aug. 27. Elementary students will have a second opportunity to transfer to or from virtual school nine weeks after Aug. 27. High school students will have the opportunity to transfer to or from virtual school at the end of the semester, during December and January.
“As far as what determines capacity, we do,” Tyler said. “We didn’t give it a number, but internally a school system has to have the leeway, the flexibility to say enough is enough and to have that ability to cut it off, because right now we’re scrambling to find teachers. Anybody who’s got a certification to teach out there, if you call our HR and say, ‘I’m a teacher, I want to teach in the virtual school,’ and you have that valid certification, then they’ll talk to you on the phone and you’ll probably have a job.”