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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Considering Wake County's Virtual Academy and Plan B? We have answers to more than 30 questions

Posted July 14, 2020 10:35 a.m. EDT
Updated July 16, 2020 8:13 a.m. EDT

When it comes to a return to school in the fall, there's simply no good answer. For the upcoming school year, Wake County Public School System, the largest in the state, is planning to offer two options to families — a Virtual Academy where students would take all of their classes online and so-called Plan B. In Plan B, students will be split up into three groups. Each group will spend a week in school on their own, followed by two weeks of virtual learning.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about both options. But, so far, the Virtual Academy is proving to be a popular choice for local families. In just three days, 11% of Wake County students have signed up for the virtual-only option. You have until July 20 deadline to register for it.

Last week, I asked readers on Go Ask Mom's Facebook page if they had any questions about the Virtual Academy — and they responded with dozens of them. Here are answers to some of those questions about both the Virtual Academy and Plan B (but not all ... there are a lot of unknowns even now).

As you consider the best option for your family, be sure to read Wake County's Return-to-School document, Wake County's website about the Virtual Academy, information presented to the school board on July 2, a July 14 presentation to the board and Wake County's very informative Twitter account. Along with an interview with the school system, these documents are where I found many of the answers to questions readers posed.

What is Wake County's Virtual Academy?

The Virtual Academy will be a fully online option that is intended for students with health concerns that won't allow them to return to the school building, but is open to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

What is the registration deadline?

The deadline is set for 5 p.m., July 20. The deadline is firm, according to Wake County.

Update: If I sign my child up for the Virtual Academy in the fall and want them to continue in the spring as well, why can they only return if there is "space permitting?"

Wake County answered that question in a tweet.

Will my child lose their seat in their base or magnet school if I choose the Virtual Academy?

No. According to Wake County, students will remain assigned to their current school. Students will need to commit to at least a full semester of learning through the Virtual Academy. The school system recommends that families make at least a one-year commitment to the program.

My child is a transfer student or year-round student? Will they lose their seats if we choose the Virtual Academy?

No. Students attending a school on a transfer or calendar option also will not lose their spots.

How will my child learn in the Virtual Academy?

Instruction and learning will be both live and recorded and will take place via a common online learning management system that will be accessible through the Virtual Academy platform.

Students will work in small and large groups and will have some opportunity to work at their own pace.

"Our intent is to align the Virtual Academy student experience with the online instruction experience of students who are participating in Plan B," according to Wake County.

Kids will learn the same material from certified teachers as their classmates who choose Plan B.

What courses will be offered?

Course schedules, according to Wake County, will be based on "student need and availability." Right now, Wake County only is committing to offering K-8 core classes and all high school classes that are required for graduation.

What else will be offered is up in the air. "Final decisions on operational details for the Virtual Academy will be largely dependent on the number of students who enroll as well as the grade level and instruction needs of those students," according to Wake County.

"Simply put, the more students who enroll, the larger and more expansive the list of courses will become," the county says. "The intent will be to make every effort to ensure that there is a baseline menu of both core and elective course offerings across multiple content areas."

Who will teach my child?

Wake County teachers will be teaching in the Virtual Academy. Exactly who those teachers are depends on the numbers of students who choose the Virtual Academy and the number of teachers available, but Wake County hopes to assign students to teachers at their current school. If that's not possible, they will be grouped with students from different schools within the same region.

Students, however, will receive counseling and social emotional support from staff members within their current school.

Update: Principals will be assigning teachers to the Virtual Academy. According to the July 14 presentation, district staff will offer school principals guidance on key qualities to consider when assigning teachers to the program.

What is the minimum number of students required to offer a class at any particular school that will be led by a teacher from that school?

The answer to this question varies widely, depending on the enrollment, the teachers available, the age of the student and the subject of each class.

For students in elementary school, "it's very likely at those levels that they would have a teacher from their school," said Wake County schools communication director Lisa Luten, but it's not guaranteed.

Will my child be on the computer all day?

No. According to Wake County, the amount of computer time will depend on the child's age, but there will be time for learning activities on their own, breaks like lunch and time to get outside and play that will be part of the daily schedule.

Update: According to a July 14 presentation to the school board, students in the Virtual Academy will receive at least 2.5 hours of live instruction per day. This may increase beyond the baseline, based on teacher planning, according to the presentation. Students will receive five to six hours of instruction and instructional activities per day.

If family schedules don't permit children to attend Virtual School during all weekdays, can my child complete the work on the weekends? Will attendance be required during the live sessions?

"Attendance is required whether it's live or not," Luten said.

Will I need to be with my child while they learn?

It depends on the child and their age. Younger children may need more hands-on support than older kids.

"We will work with families to ensure that they have the support they need for a successful experience," according to Wake County.

What kind of schedule will the Virtual Academy follow?

According to Wake County, the school day will be similar to a traditional daily school schedule.

What will the hours of the Virtual Academy be?

This hasn't been determined, Luten said.

What does limited availability mean for electives that are offered at magnet schools or in middle schools and high schools?

Not all electives will be offered, which means some students will need to adjust their schedules.

How will language immersion schools be handled, especially for kindergarten?

For families with children at immersion schools, Luten recommends checking in with your school's principal.

My child is taking Advanced Placement classes. Will they be able to continue with these classes through the Virtual Academy?

During a usual year and long before the pandemic, Luten said, students are not guaranteed enrollment in any AP class. "It's based on the availability of the class and the number of kids that request them," she said. In cases where there's a lot of competition for a particular class, such as AP Psychology, there may simply not be enough spots for all the students who are requesting the class.

"There's nothing in the Virtual Academy that makes that problem worse," she said. "There's probably an advantage in that there's more flexibility. You're not constrained by the physical space."

Another advantage, she said, is that Wake's school district is large. So there may be a better chance that, across the district or region, that there will be enough students to put together an AP class in a particular subject. At the same time, it's too early to tell what AP classes will be offered through the Virtual Academy as it depends on what students who sign up for it will need.

"The goal in any year is to build course offerings around the needs of the student," she said. "That is no different now."

Luten was working to share more specifics about IB diploma programs and specialized academies at the county's high schools. (If this is something you're concerned about, I would recommend checking with your child's school for answers.)

How will language instruction be taught?

It will be offered virtually, said Luten, who noted that languages have been successfully taught online through a variety of platforms.

(My family had experience with virtual Spanish instruction at the elementary and high school levels in the spring through Wake County, and it was a success.)

How will the non-academic side of school be addressed?

Luten said Wake County is putting a big focus on the social-emotional needs of students who attend either the Virtual Academy or Plan B. "The social-emotional part is something everyone is attuned to," she said. "If students aren't prepared to learn, they can't learn."

In the Virtual Academy, there will be a concerted effort to create community, Luten said. What that looks like will depend on the age and needs of the students. At the younger level, one option is using social stories that walk through why people are wearing masks or why Grandma is getting sick to help students understand what is happening in the world around them through the lens of an individual student, she said.

My child is AIG. Will they continue to get services through the Virtual Academy?

Yes. Students will get the services they qualify for through the Virtual Academy.

My child has an IEP or receives other specialized services, including English as a Second Language, special education and intervention plans. How will they be served through the Virtual Academy?

The student will receive those services from staff at their physical school, according to Wake County. Services will be provided virtually.

Update: According to the July 14 board presentation, Wake County will offer parent training to support parents in accessing online instruction for kids with an IEP

If my child's base or magnet school starts sports or other activities, can my child participate?

Yes. Children in the Virtual Academy can continue to participate in any co-curricular or extracurricular activities, including sports, through their current school, according to Wake County.

Will we be issued laptops and wifi to participate?

Students won't be automatically provided with a computer and wifi if they sign up for the program. But they can indicate they need help on the Virtual Academy application form.

"We will be working to help meet those needs as we receive notification," according to Wake County.

What kind of laptop or computer will my child need to participate in the Virtual Academy? Will a tablet work?

Wake County answered this question on its Twitter page.

Will my child have to toggle back and forth between different platforms, like Seesaw or Google Classroom, YouTube and Google Meet, or will the Virtual Academy be offered on one single platform?

Lots of kids and parents were frustrated in the spring because they had to constantly move back and forth between different websites and platforms. "There is an effort being made to streamline that process so that it's a better experience," Luten said for students in both the Virtual Academy and completing online learning through Plan B.

If we don't like the Virtual Academy or I feel good about sending my child to their actual school, can I change my mind?

Students commit to being part of the Virtual Academy through the fall semester. They can return to their physical school in the spring "if space permits," according to Wake County.

Wake County would prefer it if you remained in the Virtual Academy for the entire year.

Can I switch to the Virtual Academy if I choose Plan B first?

Maybe, but it will be up to your child's principal, who will make the decision based on staffing and other considerations, according to Wake County.

I was planning to send my child to a Wake County schools preschool. Is the Virtual Academy an option for us?

Not at the moment. "At this time, all requirements and expectations cannot be met in this model," according to Wake County.

If I want to go with Plan B, the hybrid plan that includes in-school instruction and virtual learning, do I need to do anything?

No. Plan B is your default choice.

How does Plan B work again?

Students at each school will be split up into three groups. Each group will be part of a three-week school rotation that's comprised of one week of in-school instruction and two weeks of online instruction.

What will the first week of school look like for students attending Plan B?

Each group will attend one day at their physical school during the first two weeks of school, according to the July 2 presentation to the school board. The rest of those two weeks will be devoted to virtual learning.

Will my child be required to attend online learning that's offered as part of Plan B?

Yes. The school system expects attendance for both in-person and online instruction.

Update: What will school look like during the online portion of Plan B?

Expect at least five hours of live instruction per week. That's a minimum baseline across all schools, according to the July 14 presentation. The live instruction will be coupled with four hours per day of non-live instructional activities.

Update: Will my elementary school student still have specials in Plan B?

Students will get literacy and math instruction daily. Specials like music and art that typically take kids outside the classroom, will be scheduled to minimize movement within the school building, according to the July 14 presentation.

Update: Will middle school and high school students have access to electives in Plan B?

Middle school students will have access to electives and high school credit courses. High school students will be able to take honors and Advanced Placement courses, along with arts, CTE and other specialized electives, according to the July 14 presentation.

I know there are many more questions about both the Virtual Academy and Plan B. I plan to update this as we learn more.

Update: In Plan B, who will my child be learning with during the two weeks of virtual instruction?

According to the county, they will continue to learn with their teachers and cohort of peers.

Update: In Plan B, the plan is to group siblings together, so they are on the same rotation and attend school the same week. Can I request for my children to attend school on different weeks?

No.