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Virtual, E-School attendance dips as spring semester starts for some Bay Area districts

Parents have a tough choice ahead: Keep kids in school, or enroll them in virtual academy
Posted at 5:10 AM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 07:47:01-05

As we rebound amid the pandemic, many students are making the switch from distance learning to face-to-face learning.

We asked five local school districts to provide us enrollment data from Fall 2020 and Spring 2020. Four districts responded, as well as Florida Virtual School that's been at the forefront of online education in the state for almost 25 years.

The largest decrease in enrollment is Polk County e-school. That's where children are still enrolled at their districted or choice school, just online. By September 2020, Polk e-school had 42,636 students enrolled. It saw an almost 34% decrease by January.

Polk Virtual School, which contracts with Florida Virtual School, saw a 28% enrollment drop. Hillsborough Virtual School has 4,215 students enrolled this semester, which is an almost 22% decrease from the fall.

Kids could be leaving for a variety of reasons, but many students are heading back to brick and mortar schools.

A spokesperson for Hillsborough County Schools told me they expect about 14,000 kids to go back to face-to-face learning. Last week, Polk County Schools saw an extra 842 students go back to brick and mortar schools. Sarasota's Virtual School saw 175 students re-enroll in face-to-face learning or move to e-school. In September, Pinellas County Schools went from 50% of its student population in brick and mortar schools to 72% this month.

Parents keeping their students in e-learning may notice their kid starting to burn out.

"January is a great time to start fresh. New semester, new beginnings, new routines, new schedules, set it up now so you can have a good semester," FLVS teacher Melissa Martin said.

Martin has been in education for more than a decade and has spent a few years with FLVS. She says it's best for parents to identify the source of what's holding their child back, then work from there.

"I think it's really about finding where's the pain point, you know, and then trying to address it from there. Especially if going back to brick and mortar is just not an option at this point," she said.

ABC Action News requested data from FLVS to see how many kids are not completing courses. Luckily, it's not many. Out of 11,414 full-time students, about 46 students didn't complete one course, about 11 students didn't complete two, and 34 students didn't complete three or more.

The only local district to answer our request on failure rates was Sarasota. Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Polk Counties. Semesters hadn't ended when ABC Action News requested the data. Out of the 480 students Sarasota Virtual School enrolled, about 26 students failed one class, 10 students failed 2 classes, and 19 students failed three or more. It's important to note, Sarasota's 2nd grading period doesn't end until January 22. So those numbers could fluctuate as students work to bring their grades up another week.

Martin tells parents to control what they can. If their kids are distracted, try de-cluttering their space or set a timer for homework. She's also noticed many e-learners stress over turning in assignments much more than kids in brick and mortar schools.

"Many times the kids want it to be perfect. There is something about online learning that they just feel like hitting that submit button is so final," Martin said. "But submitting something is better than submitting nothing. A teacher cannot give feedback with nothing submitted. A teacher cannot reach out and see where they're struggling. They can't change instruction. They can't see anything."

She reminds parents the work doesn't have to be perfect and to contact teachers if they're having issues.

“If an assignment comes in and it's good, we kind of just think, 'Great, they’ve got this,'" she said. "[Teachers] don't know if there were tears on the other side. They don't know if it took two hours longer than it should have.”

Martin says the best way to get your child the help they need, whether they're struggling academically or mentally, is by communicating to their teacher.

ABC Action News also asked local districts and FLVS what mental health resources are available to students who need help. The responses are listed below.

Florida Virtual School

"While FLVS continues to provide mental health services to our students, unfortunately, FLVS does not currently receive the state’s Mental Health Allocation funding. We are working with the Florida Legislature to receive this funding that other public school districts receive for these services. As a Florida public school, FLVS Full Time is required to follow the same student safety protocols as brick-and-mortar schools. FLVS employs school psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors to support our students. We do conduct safety team meetings and student concern review meetings. When needed, we provide individual counseling and small group counseling to help students learn skills related to success, coping, and mental health well-being."

Hillsborough County Schools

"Our eLearning students have the same resources available as students in brick and mortar. Each school has mental health professionals that work with students- which can include counselors, school psychologists and school social workers. These same employees conduct Telehealth visits (5,000 so far this year) with students in eLearning and conduct check-ins with students and parents if help is needed. There are also additional layers of support with district-wide mental health clinicians. In the case of a crisis specifically, our mental health staff is trained in handling those situations and to evaluate the seriousness of the crisis. We also have a mental health hotline to connect families with appropriate resources (in both English and Spanish)"


"We have several types of mental health professionals who are trained in delivering mental health supports to students, including mental health facilitators, school psychologists, school social workers and school counselors. Students may receive a range of services, including check in check out, individual counseling, group counseling, or referral to community-based services."

You can find more information here.


"The district has trained personnel on-staff in the Student Services department and also has contracts with community partners for school-based mental health therapists to provide services to students."

You can find more information here.