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Thousands of Florida parents choose virtual school options as COVID cases climb

Hillsborough live
Posted at 4:36 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 18:10:28-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of parents in Tampa Bay are rushing to enroll their kids in virtual school programs as COVID-19 cases climb.

Nicole Boyle, a Tarpon Springs mom of three, hoped the COVID-19 conditions would be better in time for this school year, but she says sending her 3rd grader into the classroom feels too risky.

“There have definitely been multiple times where I’ve been talking to my husband and I’m in tears because he has to go back to school, but his safety comes first,” she elaborated.

Boyle’s twin 7th-grade daughters, Devon and Ireland, are vaccinated and will return to school Tuesday in Pinellas County. Her son, Jakob, will learn online with the Pinellas Virtual School Live! K-5 program.

“There really just isn’t much protection in place considering the majority or all of elementary school kids can’t get vaccinated yet. So that was my concern but the virtual option makes me feel better,” she added.

Local school districts are seeing a rush of parents signing up for virtual options. 4,000 parents alone in Hillsborough County have opted for virtual school, nearly half of those signed up just this past weekend.

Enrollment in Hillsborough Virtual School has closed but the district is still working to accept hundreds of students into the program.

In Pinellas, virtual program enrollment closes August 20th. So far, 431 students have signed up for the Live! K-5 program which includes live daily instruction. Pinellas County also has a virtual program for grades 6-12 where students work at their own pace and check in with a teacher weekly. This school year, the district has added more questions to help with questions.

Florida Virtual School’s full-time 9-12 program enrollment is closed but their K-8 enrollment goes until August 13th. Students can also sign up for their flex program at any time.

“Especially with the flex program, if you’re thinking you wouldn’t want to stay all year, you want to just do first semester I think that’s a good option,” Senior Director of Instruction Robin Winder added.

ABC Action News has also learned most of the virtual programs (including Florida Virtual School’s Full-time program and Hillsborough County’s Virtual Program) require a higher FSA test score to get in. Education leaders tell us that’s to ensure a student is successful with the curriculum.

ABC Action News asked Addison Davis, Hillsborough County Superintendent if the criteria to get in would be lowered in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic and parents wanting more virtual options. He said no adding, “Not every student can learn on an independent basis so there has to be a criteria where a child has proven to be successful.”

Davis added that support systems will be in place, however, to help students successfully complete the program.

Boyle says although the decision was tough, she’s looking forward to her family’s hybrid approach to the school year.

“As parents we have to do what’s best for us and best for our family. It’s not going to look the same for everyone but if you are looking for an option, I think this is a good one to try out and I’m grateful that it’s available,” she added.