Education

School districts across the state are expanding all-virtual school programs to accommodate extra students in the fall.

The state is requiring districts to open at full capacity, five days a week, next school year. But district leaders say some parents may not be comfortable with in-person learning as the pandemic continues.

“We do believe going into this next year that there will be a segment of our population that will be struggling with the idea of getting back to normalization, or maybe there are some health concerns within the family,” Fayette County Schools director of pupil personnel Steve Hill told an interim legislative committee Tuesday. 

About 9,500 Fayette County Schools students are still remote, or about 22% of students. Now the district is expanding its existing online high school to a K-12 model. Hill says around 200 students have already selected a fully online option for the fall.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Sally Sugg said her district is planning a similar expansion, extending an existing 6-12 grade program to younger students.

“We will have a virtual academy, but it will be a Shelby County teacher, Shelby County curriculum,” she told lawmakers.

Sugg said she’s hoping the virtual school expansion will appeal to more families than just those with pandemic-related concerns. The district sent out 400 letters to homeschool families, alerting them to the new virtual academy, she said.

“We’re opening that up, hoping some of those students that have been homeschooled will come back to the public schools where they can get an enriched curriculum and co-curricular activities, and the teaching that we feel like that we do best,” she said.

Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, is expanding its online high school to grades 6-8 next year. Families have until Friday, June 4, to select the fully virtual option.

JCPS families can select the virtual option at this link.

Not all districts are expanding their online programs. Robert Harmon, Adair County Schools director of pupil personnel, told the committee Tuesday that Adair County will “go back to conventional.” He said the district will maintain its online program, but is not planning an expansion into K-5. 

Harmon said students are allowed to participate in the online program based on “extenuating circumstances,” but did not elaborate further.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.