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School buildings across Missouri are closed for the remainder of the year and districts, parents, and students have been scrambling for the past month to figure out how to keep learning happening virtually.
But what is happening for students across the state is not virtual education, any more than it is homeschooling.
Instead, students are experiencing hastily cobbled together attempts to translate traditional classroom instruction to an online or worksheet based platform. Traditional classroom teachers are doing their best to help their students, but most are not trained in effective virtual education practices, and even if they are they have had to construct a plan on the fly.
True virtual education, whether it be offered synchronously or asynchronously, is carefully planned in advance and uses the unique benefits of a virtual platform to monitor individual competency.
And that type of carefully planned and well delivered virtual instruction is available to every public school student in Missouri at no cost.
Or at least it should be.
Unfortunately, as the guide pictured here shows, districts have resisted following the virtual education law passed several years ago.
Districts have failed to properly notify parents of their virtual education options or advertise those options on their websites.
Districts have failed to grant parents’ requests to enroll their students in virtual education which has resulted in lawsuits across the state (all of which have been won by the parents so far).
And districts have even simply ignored parents’ requests to enroll their children leaving students in limbo for up to a year as they wait to access a learning platform they believe will be in their best interests.
That is why state officials are working to pass new legislation to force districts to comply with the law and why CEAM has joined with the National Coalition for Public School Options and Missouri Education Reform Council in asking the state Board of Education to provide clear guidance to all school districts in the state to ensure that students have access to virtual education.
The letter simply asks the BOE to direct school districts to respond to requests for virtual education “with the same care, timeliness, and fairness” as any other enrollment.
While the delays that many parents have faced in trying to access virtual education started long before the pandemic (here is a letter about the issue sent to the St. Louis Public Schools in November), the need to fix these issues is especially important as families try to figure out how deal with COVID-19 learning losses.
None of us know how the next school year will play out. There is a very real chance that school buildings will be closed for a portion of the year if the virus returns, and many parents, frustrated by the loss of learning this spring, may want to ensure their children are in stable virtual education programs instead of returning to schools in a time of uncertainty.
School districts are the gatekeepers for this essential tool to keep kids learning in Missouri and the state Board of Education needs to make sure that they are not blocking it an attempt to preserve the status quo.
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