As the state board of education meets today, local school officials hope board members will drop seat time requirements for online classes.
Teachers and administrators want students to have the freedom to "move on when ready" and earn course credit when they have completed assignments and tests, regardless of how much time was spent in the classroom.
"Virtual learning classes are still following the seat time required for high school courses," said Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer. "Students have to log in and be active on the site for the whole time. As a charter system, we've moved away from seat time and spend time on what is most valuable and can give different times to different courses. Now we want to free up the virtual school."
Local superintendents have asked the state for a waiver several times, but the request is always turned down, said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.
"However, we've negotiated some middle ground and think it will be approved as long as we create a comprehensive end of course test for quality control," he said. "This change would be big. We need to move toward blended instruction in the classroom and online."
The seat time waiver already applies to Lanier Career Academy, but other Gainesville and Hall County schools are only authorized to offer it for credit recovery programs, or online programs that help students who fail a course in the classroom. A change to the rule would allow students to gain initial credit online.
"We're asking for this so students who want to get to higher level courses sooner can get some basic courses out of the way early on and get into those higher courses," said Gerald Boyd, Hall County school improvement specialist. "We just need to move out of their way."
The current rule states a unit of credit for graduation will be awarded to students for completion
of state-approved courses with a minimum of 150 hours of regular instructional time, 135 hours on a block schedule or 120 hours in summer school. Elimination of this hour requirement wouldn't affect instruction overall, Boyd said.
"Although the courses will be administered through a lab setting, the student and the lab facilitator will be assigned to a certified and highly qualified teacher facilitator in each curriculum area who will monitor the progress of the students as they move forward," he said.
The rule would also define seat time minimums as 270 minutes for kindergarten through third grade, 300 minutes for fourth and fifth grade and 330 minutes for sixth through 12th grade.
The new rule could exempt students enrolled in dual or joint enrollment programs from required seat time as well, which will help when Da Vinci Academy students begin working with Gainesville State College professors on geospatial technology projects.
Hall County school officials drafted a rationale for the state board to support the waiver, outlining how Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate students often jump hurdles to schedule the classes they want.
"As in any system, we have some very high-level students who wish to take high-level and dual-enrollment courses during their high school tenure," the rationale says. "If these students can take core or required courses at their own speed, they can move into the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual enrollment college courses they desire in order to gain an advantage to their college careers."