New Albany Floyd County Schools is offering a virtual program for sixth through 12th grade students who choose not to return to in-person classes next school year.

District officials said New Albany Floyd County Virtual Academy will operate as its own school, though students will stay on the same schedule as those attending in-person classes.

Assistant superintendent Steve Griffin said in-person learning is the “best option” for students who are able to attend, but some families may not be ready to send their children back to school yet.

“If students begin to struggle academically or attendance gets to be an issue, we’re going to reach out to them and encourage them to come back to in-person learning,” he said. “But the hope is that students will understand that it’s just as rigorous, just as demanding and just as enriching as the in-person learning.”

Over the past year, NAFCS has allowed all students in grades K-12 to participate in online learning. Griffin said more than 2,000 students — about 18% of the district’s total student body — are still fully virtual this semester, which ends this month.

But next school year’s virtual academy will only be open to grades six through 12, meaning all elementary students will attend in-person classes. Griffin said district officials decided virtual learning isn’t “developmentally appropriate” for younger students.

“Especially kindergarten, first and second grade students, [who] are learning to read, write and to do basic math skills,” he said. “They really need to be in the face-to-face environment. To do that virtually has been a huge challenge for us, and our teachers have done an awesome job.”

The district received 400 responses from a recent survey of parents of current virtual students in grades K-12. Those responses showed about 25% would prefer to continue online learning, 25% were unsure, and 50% would return to in-person classes.

Griffin said the district won’t know the exact number of students who’ll continue virtual learning until enrollment ends, but he estimated the total could be around 200. If demand is higher, he said the district may cap enrollment and create a waiting list.

NAFCS is in the process of hiring one to two teachers per grade level who will be dedicated to virtual students.

“They’ll take English and math live with our teachers, then we’re going to use Edgenuity, which is an online curricular platform that they’ll be able to take other classes and electives like science, social studies, keyboarding and things like that,” Griffin said.

The district will give each student in the virtual academy a Chromebook and use Google platforms for classes. Griffin said virtual students who want to take classes that require in-person attendance, such as trade programs at the Prosser Career Education Center or music classes, will be able to do so.

New Albany Floyd County Schools will launch a sign-up portal for students who intend to continue virtual learning on its website starting Monday. The deadline for enrollment is June 11. A video outlining the district’s plans can be watched here.

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.