The Cedar Rapids Community School District will open a fully accredited virtual academy for high school and middle school students this fall, the district announced Tuesday.
The Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy is open to any student in grades six through 12 in Iowa and will provide a completely online learning experience — an option more families are eyeing as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy is Iowa’s fourth virtual school. It was approved by the Iowa Department of Education on June 5, district spokeswoman Colleen Scholer said.
Other virtual schools in the state are provided by Des Moines Public Schools, Clayton Ridge Community School District and CAM Community School District in Anita.
The deadline for open enrollment — which allows students to attend schools of their choice regardless of home address — in Iowa is July 15.
John Rice, executive director of teaching and learning, said the district already had been experimenting with all-online learning when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March. About 90 students were enrolled in all-virtual learning in the spring, and 50 were enrolled this past fall.
Since the closure, Rice said district surveys have found many Cedar Rapids families are not comfortable sending their children back to school come August. He expects some 300 students to enroll, and the academy does not have an enrollment cap.
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“We had 90 kids without a pandemic, and we expected to grow to 200,” he said of the virtual academy’s enrollment. “With a pandemic, 300 seems like a conservative estimate.”
The self-paced academy’s courses are taught through Edgenuity, an Arizona-based educational technology company, and Cedar Rapids teachers provide students with assistance, monitor courses and grading.
Rice said the district plans to hire physical education, Spanish, music and art teachers on short-term contracts this summer. Those positions “could be an option for teachers who aren’t comfortable in a building,” he said.
Although school districts can implement their own reopening rules, the Iowa Department of Education last week recommended against requiring face masks when schools resume in-person classes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended face coverings to curb the spread of COVID-19, which is a respiratory virus.
The Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy will follow the district’s regular academic calendar, which sets the first day of school Aug. 24. Students enrolled in the virtual school will receive a Google Chromebook, and they still can participate in sports, clubs and other activities at their local high school.
“I think it’ll be just part of a lot districts’ school options,” Rice said of online-only learning options. “We have Metro (alternative high school), we have Iowa BIG, we have a home-school program and now, there will be a virtual school that gives families that permanent option.”
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