Enrollment numbers for the state-sponsored virtual education program Virtual Virginia are up significantly from two years ago, and locally, some school divisions are leaning on the program more heavily than in years past.
More than 18,000 public school students — or about 1.5% of all of Virginia’s 1.25 million students — are projected to be enrolled this school year in Virtual Virginia, a 15-year-old tuition-based program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education that offers full-time and part-time virtual learning in all grade levels.
The total number of participating full- and part-time Virtual Virginia students has doubled from just two years ago, when about 9,000 students participated, VDOE spokesperson Charles Pyle said.
In years past, many Lynchburg-area school divisions used Virtual Virginia primarily to supplement elective course offerings or to offer a solution when scheduling conflicts arose — and mostly at the high school level.
While school divisions offered full-time virtual learning last year through division-specific programs, such as the Bedford Connects Remote Learning program in Bedford County Public Schools or the Amherst Remote Academy in Amherst County Public Schools, or operated on a hybrid schedule where many students were learning remotely at least a few days a week during the 2020-21 school year, full-time in-person learning returned for the current school year.
With some students still seeking a remote learning option this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some school divisions in the Lynchburg area turned to Virtual Virginia to help meet the need.
According to Amy Pugh, deputy superintendent for Lynchburg City Schools, 14 high school students attending E.C. Glass or Heritage high schools are enrolled part time in one or two Virtual Virginia courses each. While this number is consistent with 2019’s enrollment, Pugh said, the division’s full-time enrollment in Virtual Virginia has grown.
Through the LCS Virtual Academy, students are enrolled in Virtual Virginia classes or working with LCS teachers for remote learning. At the academy, 24 students are enrolled full time in Virtual Virginia, and 82 are enrolled part time.
Pugh said tuition for Virtual Virginia courses this fall is costing LCS $66,750.
Part-time enrollment in Virtual Virginia among high school students in Nelson County Public Schools is average and consistent with past years — sitting at 17 students, compared to 11 in the 2020-21 and 2019-20 school years and 18 in the 2018-19 school year — according to Kim Candler Douglas, director of instruction for the division.
While students seem to prefer in-person learning this year, Douglas said in an email, “... we do currently have eight students enrolled full-time in Virtual Virginia for the first semester of the 2021-2022 school year.”
In Bedford County Public Schools, 169 students are enrolled in Virtual Virginia full-time, according to Chief Learning Officer Karen Woodford. Woodford said no BCPS student has been enrolled full-time in Virtual Virginia in the past — students were only enrolled part-time for one or two courses when needed.
Dana Norman, chief academic officer for Amherst County Public Schools, said 116 students are enrolled in five or more courses through Virtual Virginia, which she said is much higher than past years. Before the closure at the end of the 2019-20 school year, Norman said, Virtual Virginia was only used in the division for high school students who enrolled in one or two courses as needed.
Tuition for the 116 students enrolled full-time this semester is about $82,000 for the division, Norman said. This year, no students are enrolled in the program part time.
However, not all school divisions in the Lynchburg area are seeing this increase.
Clayton Stanley, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Campbell County Public Schools, said the division is seeing Virtual Virginia enrollment consistent with past years.
Stanley said the division is using Virtual Virginia like it has in years past: primarily to supplement elective course offerings or offer an alternative option when scheduling conflicts arise, and only a few students in the county are enrolled.
CCPS is using Edgenuity, a program that provides flexible virtual courses to students nationwide, to provide a virtual learning option to about 140 secondary students this semester. About 60 elementary school students are receiving virtual instruction from CCPS teachers.
Virtual Virginia has proven to be a lifeline this year for school divisions who already have filled their online programs and schools, but still have students seeking a virtual option. While Virtual Virginia has closed enrollment for the fall semester, Pugh said the waitlist for the LCS Virtual Academy is growing and currently sitting at about 191 students.
In Bedford, about 70 students are on a waitlist hoping to enroll in Virtual Virginia courses if slots open up.
Norman said ACPS currently has a short waiting list for students interested in Virtual Virginia classes, but since enrollment for the current semester is closed, the division is “working with parents to support their requests as best we can.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch contributed to this report.