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How virtual learning could be permanent for some Hall County students
02222021 schools
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield discusses a plan for a virtual program of choice in the system in this screen capture from a Feb. 22, 2021, Board of Education meeting streamed live to YouTube. - photo by Shannon Casas

When the COVID-19 pandemic introduced online and hybrid learning to Hall County schools and families, some students struggled while others thrived. For those students who thrived, there will be a new fully virtual learning option, the Virtual Program of Choice. 

The Virtual Program of Choice was proposed and unanimously approved at Monday’s Hall County School board meeting. 

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said the program offers students who prove they are successful with virtual learning, a fully online school option. Students are admitted into the program through an application. Eligible students must obtain a 2.5 or higher unweighted GPA. Students cannot have a grade lower than a 70 on their transcript and must have demonstrated success in a virtual environment. A satisfactory behavior and attendance record is also required. 

The application requirements also extend to families as there must be an at-home caregiver to assist and monitor the student’s progress. 

The program will obtain full-time virtual teachers recruited from the district. It will include both asynchronous and synchronous learning as well as scheduled live class Zoom sessions. It is not a separate school and is only envisioned for third through 12th graders. 

Superintendent Will Schofield said when the pandemic shut down schools last March, not all students excelled at virtual learning. Schofield said the Virtual Program of Choice targets families whose lifestyles, work and interests are best suited for online learning. In the district's past, he said families have shown interest in virtual classes as well. 

“We’ve had full-time virtual classes for eight years now, and it’s been maxed out for personal fitness, P.E. and for Spanish 1,3,4 and Chinese,” Schofield said. “So we do have some history of our parents and students wanting virtual courses.”

Staffwise, Bales said he doesn’t plan to hire any new teachers for the program and will instead work with the Human Relations department to recruit existing staff. Students participating in the program may also be dual enrolled students.

Before voting on the proposed program, Nath Morris said although the virtual choice for students is important, he harbored hesitations. Morris said he worried the community will view the program as just an option to “keep people from having to be around others during the pandemic.”

“I’d love to know what the demand would be. It might be low or high. I’ve heard things that if they don’t get into a program, they’ll be even upset,” Morris said. “I’m hesitant but will move forward with this for the community and be on top of hearing feedback.”

Schofield said decisions to permanently keep the program will be based on data such as daily student logins, performance and program success. Whether the application will be valid for a semester or a full year is still up for debate. 

In mid-March an administrator for the program should be named and applications will be distributed April 2, Bales said. If all goes according to plan, Virtual Program of Choice applicants will be accepted by April 30.

“It’s (virtual learning) worked for you, it’s worked for your families, and if your kids have even thrived, this program is for you. So we have a plan for you and your family,” Bales said. 

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