School districts excited for new virtual options for students in upcoming school year

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 9:18 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 9:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - COVID numbers are increasing in South Carolina just a few weeks before students and teachers head back to the classroom.

Neither Richland One nor Lexington One school districts said they have experienced a big push from families trying to move their students to virtual learning in response to those rising cases.

Both districts are among the 33 across South Carolina that the state Board of Education recently approved to offer virtual learning programs for the 2021-2022 school year.

“Last year, it was sort of put upon us as, this is what we have to do now, but there was enough interest generated for kids to want to come back into this environment,” said Chris Rabon, the director of Lexington One’s Personalized Learning Pathways Initiative.

Rabon said around 300 students have enrolled in the Lexington One Online Learning Academy, or “LOOLA,” the district’s virtual option.

While Lexington One had plans to eventually expand its virtual program — pre-pandemic, it offered supplemental virtual classes that high school students could take in addition to their face-to-face courses — the pandemic laid the groundwork for expansion, now offering 100% remote learning for students in grades 6 through 12.

“If they enroll in LOOLA, then they’re still a Lexington School District One student, they’re still connected to their home schools, so if they want to participate in extracurricular activities, they can do that. If they want to join an after-school club or play sports, they can do that,” Rabon said.

This year, Richland One has also expanded its virtual program, which is available to K-12 students.

Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said just under 500 students have signed up.

“Since the pandemic, we had a number of students that weren’t in the virtual program prior to, but being in a virtual setting last school year determined this might be a setting that they would like to continue in,” Witherspoon said.

Both districts said they have teachers solely dedicated to virtual learning.

Last year, some teachers expressed frustration with having to teach virtual and in-person students at the same time, which the state’s General Assembly has discouraged districts from doing again.

“We’re not planning on that in the fall, but in the event that should have to happen, we would be in a position to compensate teachers for that additional work, if you will,” Witherspoon said.

Both districts also said their virtual program enrollment is well below 5% of the overall student population in the district. If they go over that 5% mark, the state could reduce their funding.

While 33 South Carolina school districts have been approved to offer virtual programs this year, the state said that number could go up following its Aug. 10 Board of Education meeting.

The state’s free online program, VirtualSC, is another virtual learning option for all South Carolina students.

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