The “Virtual Academy” should be more accessible

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Photo courtesy of MCPS

The Virtual Academy that was announced on the MCPS website includes in infographic explaining different aspects of the new schooling option. These include who is eligible, which teachers will teach virtually and how to enroll.

By Austin Vinner , News Editor

Over the past year, virtual school has become an important point of contention across the country. It is hated by some due to the learning difficulties it poses and revered by others as an easier way to learn in a less stressful environment. No matter people’s individual opinions on virtual school, both students and teachers have had to endure it for the past year and a half.

In MCPS in particular, the idea of offering virtual school to the students that benefit from it was considered and a survey was conducted to gauge student’s and parent’s interest in this. A “Virtual Academy” was recently announced to be an option for students in MCPS but it has recently been indicated that a majority of students will be expected to go to in-person classes.

MCPS mentioned in a message to the community on May 12th that “Students will be expected to attend school in-person, five days a week (unless they are accepted into the Virtual Academy)”. The idea of students needing to apply to virtual school and letting someone else judge whether or not they have a valid reason to stay virtual is less than ideal.

For one, students will need to explain why they are requesting this option, which can lead to uncomfortable situations for many if it is a choice of mental health related reasons.. There is also the concern of what happens for those who are not accepted into the Virtual Academy. Are they expected to go back to in-person school even though there is another, sometimes preferable, option that is being offered?

Somewhat more shocking than the apparent application and acceptance process into the Virtual Academy is the claim that students will return to a five day a week school schedule. While going to virtual school has been a polarizing issue, a clear majority of students like having a break in the middle of the week to catch up on homework and do other activities.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), “a block schedule creates a “saner school day” by slowing down the pace, reducing homework and freeing up more time for hands-on learning”.

Returning to a five day a week schedule may not be as effective, since students have already been exposed to this “saner school day” schedule and see that better options exist. It’s certainly confusing why MCPS has admitted in the announcement of the Virtual Academy that the current virtual schedule “has provided opportunities that support many family needs and the social-emotional needs of some students”, yet they are limiting who has access to this service.

This year has shown how resilient MCPS can be and shows that all students can go to school virtually. Next year there will be countless students who would never think to choose virtual school over an in-person option, but for those that do, why are there preventions in place when it is clear that MCPS has the resources necessary to make virtual school effective?

The most solid piece of evidence that students like the current virtual school schedule can be seen in the school buildings. Even though hybrid options are currently available, teachers have been disappointed with students who sign up for in-person school, and don’t show up, remaining virtual for a variety of reasons. This may frustrate teachers, but if students were dying to get back in classrooms we wouldn’t be seeing this trend.

It seems like the county is forcing students to return to normal. Even those who are lucky enough to be accepted into this “Virtual Academy” are being forced to make another impossible commitment. MCPS has stated that choosing this virtual option is a “year-long commitment”,  but considering who the county is catering to with this virtual option, this thinking is disjointed.

According to an article from Montgomery County Media, “The proposed academy would ensure older students do not sacrifice their education if they must balance work or caring for family members”. These circumstances are constantly changing and what may prevent a student from wanting to attend in-person school in the fall, may no longer be an issue by spring.

Having virtual and in-person school options is difficult, and the current school schedule proves that, but as of now MCPS will be offering virtual school in addition to traditional options. This brings up the questions of what qualifies students, in the county’s mind, to attend virtual school and why, since they are already offering this option, are they limiting who will benefit?