Virginia Virtual Academy to Close Leaving Families Stranded

Carroll County School Board has announced surprising plans to shut down a full-time statewide virtual school program that currently serves more than 350 students, according to Michael Alison Chandler writing for the Washington Post.

"Carroll County has definitely pulled the rug out from [under] everyone," said Cherie Nielsen, a parent leader of the Virginia chapter of Public School Options, an advocate for nontraditional public schools. "We are scrambling."

The School Board voted last month to discontinue the contract with K12 Inc., stating that administrative and liability concerns as the reason. However, the families around the state that are to be suddenly left without schooling plans for next year only found out late last week via email from the Virginia Virtual Academy.

Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 Inc., the Herndon-based company that operates the school, said the decision also came as a surprise to the company. "We are aggressively looking for a new partnership" to keep the school open, he said.

The Virginia Virtual Academy opened in 2009 and was the first full-time virtual program offered statewide. Two more have since opened, but one shut after only a brief availability period. Administrative and integration problems are said to at the heart of the troubles, worsened by Virginia's constitution giving local governments jurisdiction over public education. Instead of creating statewide school districts to oversee their virtual schools as other states have, Virginia is forced to offer online curriculum through local school districts.

Carroll County School Superintendent Strader Blankenship was unhappy that so much time was spent on students not from Carroll County with only five of the virtual academy's students being from the area.

Rachelle Berry-Bissesar is an Ashburn parent with two children enrolled at Virginia Virtual Academy and had hoped to enroll a third in the fall. She switched her children to the online option after being failed the neighborhood school in Fairfax County.

"I sent him off to school already reading and enthusiastic," Berry-Bissessar said. "By November, he was in tears every morning, and by January, he did not want to go any more."

After she started teaching him at home through the virtual academy, he blossomed again academically and emotionally, she said.

"I think it's really unfair to remove this option for the kids that it's working for," she said.

Virtual schools are an increasingly popular option with over quarter of a million students enrolled full-time in them so far, and growth estimated at 30% a year.

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