By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
What to expect as Hall Schools starts new Virtual Program of Choice
04252021 VIRTUAL 1.jpg
When Hall County Schools launches its Virtual Program of Choice this fall, it will be led by Scott Tipton. - photo by Scott Rogers

Even as schools return fully to in-person instruction, Hall County will continue to fulfil the needs of those students who thrive in an online learning environment. 

Hall County Schools has offered virtual learning for many years, but its new Virtual Program of Choice, which begins this fall, will provide a fully virtual option to a highly curated subset of students. It is now the only virtual option provided by the district. The school board unanimously approved the program in late February. 

The program has an acceptance rate well below 50%, with 200 students currently enrolled out of approximately 480 applicants, said Scott Tipton, the inaugural principal for the new program and former assistant principal for CW Davis Middle School. 

In the past week, Tipton said he has received an influx of 20 or so additional applications, many from parents who are “upset” that masks will not be required and “worried about their child’s safety” as COVID-19 cases surge across the county. 

But most parents cite other reasons for enrolling in the program, Tipton said. 

“The main reason I've heard from most parents that we've talked to is they enjoy it,” Tipton said. “They liked the flexibility of it, they liked being able to be there with their child longer during the day.” 

“Yes, there are some that were concerned about the pandemic,” he said. “But for the majority of folks, it was really that their child really did well with this, and they thought it was the best place for them.” 

Students must satisfy a host of criteria, including a 2.5 unweighted GPA, access to the internet and an at-home guardian, satisfactory behavior and attendance records, no failing grades on their transcripts, and most importantly, demonstrated success in a virtual environment. 

Applications are still being accepted with no hard deadline yet. Parents must sign an assurance form that commits their child to a full school year. Once the school year starts on Aug. 6, students cannot opt out of the program and transfer to in-person learning. 

The program is available to 3rd graders through high school seniors. First and 2nd graders are not included because they tend to require in-person learning more than higher grade levels, Tipton said. Of the 200 or so students, just under 40 are elementary, more than 50 are middle and roughly 100 are high schoolers. 

Class sizes range from 10 to 29 students, Tipton said, and regular classes will be held four days a week. Friday classes for all grade levels will be dedicated to “social and mental awareness time,” Tipton said, where students will socialize with their peers and learn to cope with stress and other emotional issues. Online class times will vary based on grade level — about 20 minutes for elementary students and 30 to 45 minutes for middle and high school students. A middle school student, for example, may spend 10 hours a week receiving direct instruction in his online classes. 

Enrolled students will still be affiliated with their home-base school. 

“A Cherokee Bluff High School student is still a Cherokee Bluff High School Student,” Tipton said. “They do their pictures there, they can still get a yearbook, they can go to ball games, they can participate in athletics.” 

Tipton expects the program’s new website to go live next week and is excited to lead Hall County’s new experiment in online learning. 

“One of the things I challenged our teachers as we met a couple of times is, this is not a standard school,” he said. “So don't think inside the box, think outside the box. Let's come up with — now, we may have things shot down by the county and they go, ‘no, you're not going to do that’ — but this is a chance for us to be as innovative as we want to try to be and come up with new ideas on education.”

“All of our schools do some incredibly inventive and innovative stuff,” he said. “But I thought this is just another way to do something a little bit creative and inventive, and do it in this virtual world and see if we can get something really, really great started.”

2021-2022 School Calendar

Hall County Schools

Aug. 3, 4-7 p.m.: Open house for middle school students

Aug. 4, 4-7 p.m.: Open house for high school students

Aug. 5, 3-6 p.m.: Open house for elementary school students

Aug. 6: First day of school

Sept. 6: Holiday

Sept. 29: School from home for high school students

Oct. 11-12: Fall break

Nov. 2: Teacher work day

Nov. 22-26: Thanksgiving break

Dec. 20-Jan. 3: Winter break

Jan. 17: Holiday

Feb. 21: Teacher work day

March 25: Teacher work day 

April 4-8: Spring break

May 24: Last day of school

Gainesville City Schools

Aug. 6: Open house

Aug. 9: Open house

Aug. 10: Open house

Aug. 11: First day of school for pre-K through second grades, sixth, 9th and 10th grades

Aug. 13:  First day for all other students

Sept. 6: Holiday

Oct. 11-12: Holiday and teacher work day

Nov. 22-26: Thanksgiving break

Dec. 20-Jan. 4: Winter break

Feb. 21: Teacher work day

March 14: Teacher work day 

April 4-8: Spring break

May 20: Last day of school

Regional events