DAPHNE, Ala. (WALA) – The Baldwin County Virtual School will have almost 7,000 students this year, a massive increase over the 300 who attended the online school during the 2019-2020 school year.
In a letter to parents this week, schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler told parents that the program is almost at capacity. Instead of allowing in-classroom students to switch to the online option through the end of the month, as originally planned, the school system will allow one more day to enroll – Monday, beginning at 9 a.m.
“I do not know if this will take a half hour or 5 hours, but it is the fairest way we can offer this opportunity without being selective,” Tyler wrote.
Spanish Fort resident Sarina Faircloth is among the parents who have already enrolled their children. She said it will be her children’s first year at the Virtual School but added it was not a hard decision.
“Biggest reason is because of the uncertainty at this point on, you know, what the kids are going through at school when they get there,” she told FOX10 News. “You know, the mask and all that kind of stuff. I’m really big on schedules. And I just can’t see that if they start and in three weeks, something happens that they have to come home in quarantine or, you know, they shut down schools again and then we have to go through this other stuff yet again.”
For those who cannot get into the Virtual School, Tyler recommended in his letter applying to the statewide K12 Virtual School run by the Eufaula school system. But that program now is closed, too. Parents going to that website will be directed to apply to a sister program run by the Chickasaw school system, the Alabama Destinations Career Academy. Both of those online programs use the same Virginia-based private education company for curriculum and administrative support.
Michele Eller, the assistant superintendent of the Chickasaw school system and liaison to the online program says it recently increased its target enrollment from 1,300 to 2,100. She said interested parents should move quickly. Applications can be made here.
“I would tell them they need to register ASAP,” she said. “I don’t know how many we’ll be able to take.”
The Chickasaw program runs from kindergarten to 11th grade and focuses on preparing students for careers. She said there are three pathways geared toward in-demand industries – health care, information technology and manufacturing. It has a statewide student body and dual enrollment agreements with every community college in Alabama.
It promises to be a challenging year for the Baldwin County Virtual School, which last year served only middle and high school students but now offer instruction to children of all ages. Started as a pilot program in 2013, the school has gained accolades. Last year, it received the only “A” grade of any online education program on a state report card. Concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic sparked a tidal wave of interest.
Faircloth said her 16-year-old son is not thrilled with the prospect of not attending classes with his friends. She added that her 10-year-old daughter is more receptive.
And Faircloth acknowledged that she is a bit concerned about the school system’s ability to absorb such a massive increase in online enrollment – but not enough to deter her from taking the step.
Students at the Baldwin County Virtual School will have until Aug. 27 to move back to the classroom if they want to switch. After that, students can only move back at the end of each quarter for elementary students and each semester for older students.
“That’s actually our plan,” Faircloth said. “We’re hoping to make it to January and, you know, if it looks better and things are going better at the school, then we would like to go back.”