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The future of virtual school in Arkansas

For most schools across Arkansas, virtual academies are staying for the coming school years. But what will they look like for the schools in the state?

PULASKI COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — Virtual learning, it's something that took off during the pandemic and has now changed the classroom forever. 

For most of the schools across Arkansas, virtual academies are staying for the coming school years. 

We spoke with parents and districts about what the future holds. 

Latisha Whitfield's daughter, Jordyn, spent all of ninth grade learning through a computer screen.

"She did just fine. She actually made straight A's. I think she had one B the entire year," she said.

While Jordyn was thriving academically, that wasn't the case mentally, according to Latisha. 

"She was missing her friends, she was missing that peer to peer contact, and it weighed heavy on her. And that was a major decision in us putting her back in school," she said.

Jordyn's been back in-person for the past year, but there's parts about virtual her mom likes. 

Specifically the flexibility with AMI days and Latisha hopes the option to pivot if there's another surge.

"The only way I will go back virtual if it was pertaining to her health, if it was detrimental to her health. Otherwise, she's gonna go to school, that's her choice. She wants to go to school," she said.

That's how majority of the students at Pulaski County Special School District feel too. 

According to Executive Director of Communications Jessica Duff, out of the over 12,000 kids, 595 are in the Driven Virtual Academy and right now 135 have said they want to stay virtual for next fall.

"That doesn't mean that the other 450 are going to go back to in-person, they haven't responded yet," she said.

While the numbers are unsure, Duff said something that isn't unsure is AMI days because they're to stay; whether it's used for weather or a COVID outbreak.

"The ability to not have to add that in at the end of the year and come back after Memorial Day is a huge factor for a lot of our teachers," she said.

Duff said if parents decide in the middle of the year they want to pivot their kids to virtual, it won't be that easy.

"If we experienced a surge in COVID, or some other sort of pandemic, we would have to adapt accordingly, so that we had the teacher to student ratio," she said. 

This Friday, April 8, letters of intent are due to the Pulaski County Special School District. That way the district knows where students are going in the fall; whether that's staying virtual or moving to in-person. 

Duff said this is so that they know how many teachers to assign to each school.

Most schools still have registration open for their virtual learning option. 

If you are in the North Little Rock School District and are interested in virtual academy for the upcoming school year, there is an informational session on Tuesday, April 12 at 4 p.m.

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