In-Depth: San Diego schools offer virtual options as students return to class

Virtual academies replace distance learning for new school year
Posted at 6:10 AM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 09:45:26-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - As the new school year begins, families in San Diego have options if they don't feel comfortable sending their children back to campus.

State law doesn't allow the kind of hybrid/distance learning many school districts used last year, but still requires them to offer some kind of virtual option. So many districts created "Virtual Academies" to allow students who want to the chance to learn from home.

"We want to be as flexible as possible," says Richard Barerra, the president of the San Diego Unified School District board. SDUSD says 1,400 families expressed interest in a Virtual Academy during a survey over the summer. So far, around 700 have enrolled for the upcoming school year.

"The rigor of the work, the level of the work will be equal to in person learning," says Barerra.

But 700 students is only 0.7% of the district's overall enrollment. Other districts across the county are seeing similar levels of interest.

Grossmont Union High School District is only offering an "independent study" option. Just 60 students enrolled, which is 0.3%.

Poway Unified School District says around 1,000 of their students will utilize one of five options for virtual or independent learning. That's 2.8% of the district.

Chula Vista Elementary School District has 375 students enrolled virtually, 1.7% of their students.

Cajon Valley Union School District has 301 students, or 2% of their student body. Students in Cajon Valley can either do virtual learning or home school where parents serve as their teachers.

But the emergence of the delta variant may drive those numbers up. Administrators at Cajon Valley say they started the school year with just 130 students enrolled in the virtual option. In the first weekend of classes, that number ballooned to 301.

Other districts haven't seen a surge of online enrollment yet. But say they'll be flexible and work with families who want to change their minds.

"Having options is critically important to every community," says Karen Minshew, the assistant superintendent of Educational Services for Cajon Valley Union. But, she says families won't be able to bounce between virtual and in person over and over.

"It really disrupts the continuity of the program for the students," Minshew says. "The learning process, changing teachers, changing classrooms is very disruptive."

Chula Vista Elementary began the new school year five weeks ago. They say the virtual option has been very well received, with many parents saying their children are thriving under the alternative environment.

"We did have parents that said my child did exceptionally well in this instructional model," explains Dr. Matthew Tessier, the district's Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Instruction. "You know they're a self-starter, they love getting projects and working independently, they love the online environment. So we wanted to respond to our parents."