Despite the challenges of distance learning during the COVID pandemic, public school systems across the U.S. are setting up virtual academies in growing numbers to accommodate families who feel remote instruction works best for their children.
Parent demand is driven in some measure by concern about the virus, but also a preference for the flexibility and independence that comes with remote instruction. And school districts are eager to maintain enrollment after seeing students leave for virtual charters, home schooling, private schools and other options — declines that could lead to less funding.
“It is the future,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “Some of these states might be denying it now, but soon they will have to get in line because they will see other states doing it and they will see the advantages of it.”
New Jersey parent Karen Strauss lost a brother-in-law to the pandemic. Her vaccinated teenager will return in person but she wants her 5-year-old son at her Bridgewater home until he can get a shot. Strauss said Logan has excelled online under the guidance of his teachers, who will not be available if she home-schools him.
“If learning from home is what’s best for them, why not do that? What’s the reason, except that people are afraid of change?” she said.
In New Mexico, a survey found nearly 600 of the 7,500 student families were interested in continuing virtually, including many who liked being more involved with their children’s education, said Janna Chenault, the elementary school improvement officer.
Although the spread of the delta variant and rising infection rates have cast a shadow over the start of the school year, President Joe Biden and educators across the country are encouraging a return to in-person instruction, largely because of concerns that many were served poorly by distance learning.