Local ISD Discontinues Virtual Academy

Denton ISD
Denton ISD logo | Image by Denton ISD/Twitter

Denton Independent School District announced Friday that it would discontinue its online school catering to kindergarten to 8th-grade students learning from home.

Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson explained to the Denton Record-Chronicle on June 2 that he had been contacting the parents of students enrolled in the district’s Virtual Academy to tell them that the program would not continue next fall. Instead, the students would be welcomed back at their home institutions.

“It’s unfortunate,” Wilson said, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. “It was a really good choice for some of our families. It wasn’t a large number of our families, but it provided them with a choice.”

In March 2021, Wilson said during an interview with NPR that the district’s Virtual Academy students ranged from those needing extra help due to having special needs or those wanting to move at a faster pace due to being gifted.

While Denton ISD serves about 33,000 students, 125 students were enrolled in the Virtual Academy last fall.

“Our students followed the same curriculum as other Denton ISD campuses,” explained Caleb Leath, principal of the Virtual Academy. “Based on the data we collected, our students demonstrated that they were able to learn and grow at high levels.”

There were 107 students looking to enroll in online classes for the 2023-2024 school year. Leath expected this number to rise significantly once an advertising campaign was launched.

Yet the recent failure of the Virtual Education Bill in the 88th legislative session has forced the Virtual Academy to close shop. Since it is free, the district needed between $900 and $1,000 more in its basic allotment from the state.

Also known as House Bill 681, the bill would have extended funding for virtual learning in public schools by removing the sunset date of September 1, 2023.

Other virtual learning programs in other school districts have also been canceled for next year.

For instance, Dallas ISD’s Virtual Academy ended in May, but its iLearn Virtual School and Dallas Hybrid Preparatory for students in grades 3 to 8 are still running.

Some parents have opted to place their children in virtual learning programs due to safety concerns on Dallas ISD campuses.

For instance, a firearm was discharged at John Carpenter Elementary School last October, as The Dallas Express reported. Although no one was injured, the fact that a student was reportedly able to bring a gun on campus raised several concerns among parents.

“We want to go back in person, but when you hear about all the stuff that continues to happen … guns discharging at elementary schools,” Crystal Hernandez told WFAA at the time, referring to the decision to enroll her middle-schooler in virtual learning. “We’re not safe. We’re still not safe.”

Dallas ISD has expanded existing security protocols to require every student in the district to wear a clear backpack next school year, as The Dallas Express reported.

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