Reed City school board approves virtual school

REED CITY – At Monday's meeting, the Reed City Area Public Schools Board of Education approved a recommendation to establish a virtual school, effective for the 2014-15 school year.

“We’re hoping to include a variety of children,” said Timothy Webster, superintendent of Reed City Area Public Schools. “It’s a different learning opportunity for kids. We could pick up some homeschooled kids. We could offer some advanced classes. We can pick up some kids who have been in trouble and can’t come to school.”

The district plans on starting the virtual school with a small program and expanding over time.

“I’m the one who is a little nervous, so we are starting a little small,” said Tonya Harrison, director of curriculum at Reed City Area Public Schools.

“We’re looking forward to getting it off the ground and starting with a solid, small program,” Webster added.

Webster said the district is still in the process of getting a state-issued waiver that gives permission for virtual education. These waivers, called “100 Percent Online Seat Time Waivers,” are issued by the Department of Education.

“An intermediate school district, a local school district, or a public school academy seeking to offer pupils access to online learning options and seeking to offer the opportunity to continue working on a high school diploma or grade progression without physically attending at the school facility may choose to do so under a seat time waiver,” the Department of Education released in a statement.

In order to be granted a seat time waiver, the district must meet specific requirements, including attendance. This can be measured by physically attending the school during count day or the first day after count day.

“The pupil must attend one period for each course scheduled under the seat time waiver and each period must represent the amount of time required for the course if delivered traditionally,” the department stated.

Another option for measuring student attendance is to have the student log into at least one program-sponsored online course in the student’s class schedule on count day. The student will then need to log into one program-sponsored online course in the student’s class schedule on nine separate days during the 30-day count period, for a total of 10 logins.

Aside from a seat time waiver that gives students access to 100 percent of a class schedule online, there is also a “Blended Learning Seat Time Waiver,” which includes face-to-face instruction as well as Internet-connected courses.

A district may enroll up to 25 percent of its students, grades 6-12, in a 100 Percent Online Seat Time Waiver. There is no limit on how many students may enroll in a Blended Learning Seat Time Waiver.

“We can provide you seat time here at school and seat time in a virtual school at home where you can earn a Reed City High School diploma,” Harrison said.

“We found a student the other day who wanted to go to the career center, but also looked at being a virtual student,” Webster said. “We said, ‘Hey, you can be a virtual student for half of the day at home and go to the career center through us and be one of our students.’”

Webster said staff members are working on a plan to present to the board on exactly how the virtual school will run.

The plan is due to the state on Sept. 12, but staff plans to have it completed by Aug. 25, Harrison said.

“We have heard there is no one that really gets turned down,” Harrison said.

“We’ve been in contact with other schools that offer it, so we can pick their brains on some of the things they’ve stumbled with, so we don’t stumble with those things,” Webster said. “We’re on our way.”

Aside from the approval of the virtual school, the board also approved two secretarial hires. Aftyn Johnson has been assigned to G.T. Norman Elementary and Kate Mobley has been assigned to Reed City Middle School.