It’s ‘not the ideal,’ but Wake will let PreK-3 students take virtual classes in fall

Lynda Manus works with her seven-year-old son Bryce Manus, a first-grader, to keep him focused on his virtual classes on Friday, March 26, 2021in Cary, N.C.
T. Keung Hui
·3 min read

The Wake County school system will again offer a virtual option to its youngest students this fall, after originally planning to require those children to take in-person classes.

Wake County school administrators had recommended last week that the Virtual Academy program for next school year only serve grades 4-12 due to the challenges providing online learning to younger students. But in an update Friday, Wake told families that when registration opens this month they will again offer the online program to all grade levels, pending final approval by the school board.

But Wake put disclaimers for using the virtual option for young students.

“While a virtual option will be offered for students in grades PreK-3, this is not the ideal learning environment for this age group,” Wake said in the update. “Certainly safety concerns weigh heavily on parents’ minds, but the development of academic, social and emotional learning skills needed for this age group is best taught in person.”

Last week, Assistant Superintendent Drew Cook had pointed to research showing how difficult it is for young children to work online unless their parents are trained to support them. He said that is part of the reason the district made PreK-3 students the first group to return to in-person learning this school year.

Waiting for vaccines for kids

But board member Jim Martin said families who want their children to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning on campus should be allowed to stay in the Virtual Academy. None of the vaccines are yet approved for people under the age of 16.

Clinical trials are underway to allow children as young as age 5 to get the COVID vaccine.

Students who sign up for the Virtual Academy for the 2021-22 school year are being required to commit for the whole school year. But in its update, Wake said it will reassess the requirement if vaccination programs are expanded to include children of all ages.

Wake also said it will reevaluate registration in Virtual Academy if the COVID-19 pandemic surges again.

The one-year commitment is needed, for now, the district says to avoid students having to change teachers during the year. It would also reduce or eliminate sharing teachers with students attending in-person classes.

The registration window for next year’s Virtual Academy will be open for approximately 10 days. It will begin no sooner than April 22.

Some classes won’t be offered online

Wake started the Virtual Academy this school year to meet a state requirement to offer an alternative for families worried about the impact of COVID-19. Wake says it’s bringing the program back because “some families may not be comfortable with in-person instruction as we begin the 2021-22 school year in July and August. “

Aside from the one-year commitment, Wake says families who sign up for the Virtual Academy should consider that:

Virtual Academy students can participate in extra- and co-curricular activities such as athletics, arts and clubs at their assigned school. But transportation won’t be provided due to a lack of bus drivers.

Some electives may not be offered online if there are not enough students registered and/or teachers available.

Some courses and classes won’t be offered online because they’re “dependent on the hands-on learning experiences.”

The Virtual Academy will not be offered in the early colleges, leadership academies, alternative schools, Crossroads Flex High School and SCORE Academy.