NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Two years ago, virtual learning seemed almost foreign. Now, as COVID cases rise again, the topic is top on the minds of parents. This year, however, the online schooling option is not available for most schools.
Dallas mom Stephanie Krejs was one of many parents surprised to hear that it wasn't even an option. "I didn't see this coming," she said to CBS 11's Ginger Allen. "I felt like they would have the same options that were available to all of the students last year."
Her daughter, a junior at a Dallas Public School has taken several advanced courses. Krejs worries students, such as her daughter, should have a virtual option- especially if they are quarantined at home for 10 or more days.
"They need access to that virtual instruction alongside just having the material is not enough," she says. "With her applying to college this year, this is not a year to have a quarantine for days and not be able to stay on top of that huge workload."
WHY VIRTUAL EDUCATION MAY NOT BE AN OPTION
This year virtual learning instruction is unavailable for about five million Texas students.
HB 1468 would have provided funding for staff and resources; however, due to a walkout in the house in late May, the bill stalled in the legislature. Last year the state funded virtual learning because the Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath used a special waiver that allowed for the funding. The TEA says that won't be the case this year.
"People have said, 'Why can't the commissioner just do the same thing this year that he did last year?" TEA spokesperson Frank Ward said. "...it's because there was other legislation passed that specifically prohibits that."
Morath is talking about HB 1525. The bill removed the Commissioner of Education's ability to exercise this emergency authority for the pandemic into a new school year. The waiver provided by Commissioner Morath during the last school year allowed full funding for virtual learning just as if students were attending in-person. It cannot be extended for this school year into next school year due to language contained within the bill.
But there is some wiggle room for a virtual option. Ward says districts can use federal funding to provide some form of virtual learning.
Existing law does allow remote instruction to be provided to any student during any portion of a day claimed for attendance as long as the majority of instruction provided during that day is in-person. And, the law allows school districts to control their daily school schedule as long as a minimum number of instructional minutes are reached. Some schools have used this to convert to a four-day school week in-person, with a fifth day remote, knowing that the required minutes were reached in the four in-person days.
Schools that do not meet the minimum minutes of in-person instruction would still be funded (though not fully). To be fully funded, every school must meet the standard in-person 75,600 operational minutes requirement for the school year.
Frisco ISD has developed a plan which uses state and federal funds. It will offer virtual learning for students in grades pre-K to 6th who are unable to get a vaccine.
Plano and Richardson ISD's are also offering some form of virtual learning.
The I-Team reached out to 15 districts. Five did not respond.
The others said they have no plan for online schooling.
HOW DISTRICTS WILL PROVIDE INSTRUCTION DURING QUARANTINE
Here's how the districts which responded plan to provide instruction to those students who are sent home for days- possibly weeks
ARLINGTON ISD —
"If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will be quarantined and will receive makeup work in all of their courses."
FORT WORTH ISD —
"Teachers will coordinate with parents to provide the appropriate work for students who may be out for more than a few days."
DALLAS ISD —
"We will provide a remote option for students who test positive for COVID so that we can ensure continuity of instruction."
GRAND PRAIRIE ISD —
"If a student is out of the classroom for an extended period of time and the absences are excused, they will be provided ample time to make up their coursework upon their return. We will also continue to use online platforms through Google Classroom (elementary) or Canvas (secondary)."
PLANO ISD —
"The district does not have plans for a virtual enrollment option like last year's PISD School@Home. As additional information regarding instructional continuity for students who may be quarantined becomes available, it will be shared with parents and added to the Return to School Plan."
HIGHLAND PARK ISD —
"There are no plans at this time for remote or virtual learning. No additional funding was provided to school districts for remote or virtual learning. Smaller school districts like ours don't have the resources to provide this on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, should conditions warrant, it may need to be considered. Like when students are ill for any other reason, teachers will work with individual students who are absent."
SOUTHLAKE CARROLL ISD —
"We are following TEA's guidance at this time and will be treated similar to other communicable diseases such as the flu."
The TEA tells the I-Team a final effort by the state to provide online instruction would have to come in an upcoming special session. The I-Team asked the governor's office if that will happen. A spokesperson said it will give "...Legislators an option to consider funding for virtual learning."
VIRTUAL SCHOOLS IN TEXAS
There is one option still open for any Texas school child. The law allows students to participate in a full-time virtual experience in one of seven grandfathered fully virtual schools.
Sixth grader Logan Lyn attends one of the seven virtual schools which is part of the Texas Virtual School Network. He lives in Houston and attends iUniversity Prep in the Grapevine Colleyville ISD.
Lyn's family says he cannot risk COVID or being sent home for weeks at a time without seeing his teachers.
"By him being in remote learning, we know it's for a whole year. There's stability," said mom Laura Lyn.
The Texas Virtual School Network is available for free to all 3rd to-12th graders who are accepted.
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