More information has been released regarding options for a virtual alternative to in-person learning at the McFarland School District (MSD).
At its Jan. 11 meeting, the McFarland School Board was presented with a look at the intricacies of Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), a virtual school that serves as a charter extension of MSD.
This latest development is one in a series of school reopening updates that have been ongoing for several months.
The pull between virtual and in-person learning began in March of last year, when the district shut down in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district continued to operate on a fully virtual basis until September, when students in grades 4k through second grade were permitted back to physical schools on a hybrid basis.
In mid December, a vote was made to send grades three to five back as well, no sooner than Jan. 26. One week later, on Dec. 21, the board voted to also transition grades six to 12 from virtual to in-person learning by February.
Prior to the board’s vote for grades three to five to begin the transition to in-person learning, board members expressed a desire for the district to present an option for families uncomfortable with a return to physical schools to continue as they were in a virtual model. The hope was that students would be able to opt out of in-person learning but still keep their same teachers and classes.
“I am in favor of moving to hybrid, but I’m not necessarily in favor of the way it was proposed,” Board Member Ann Moliter said at the Dec. 14 meeting. “I don’t know that it has to be an either or, and I’ve looked at other schools that have been able to accommodate allowing parents to choose what’s best for their student.”
The district initially agreed to pursue a virtual option, but eventually reported that the administration had been unable to produce a plausible model for students to remain in all of their courses virtually.
“We have heard for some time from some of our community members a strong desire for virtual opportunities within the brick and mortar schools and we are very empathetic to that,” said Superintendent Andrew Briddell. “Unfortunately, the district is not able to stand up a full fledged virtual school with our own teachers that would be a parallel alternative to WIVA.”
Transferring to WIVA has now been posed as the only option for students who do not wish to return to in-person learning. However, as an appeasement for families who would have preferred a virtual MSD option in lieu of transferring to WIVA, the district has decided to amend current school policies to allow for some crossover.
The expansion of current WIVA/MSD policy includes four new opportunities for WIVA students: access to general education courses offered virtually by MSD, access to co-curricular clubs at MSD, participation in non-WIAA athletics and access to digital district technology.
Depending on which courses are available at each building, a student could select a full load of classes by shifting enrollment to WIVA for classes that are not available virtually in brick and mortar MSD schools, and then picking up the remainder of classes, the ones that are available virtually through MSD, as normal.
For an extensive list of classes that will remain to be offered virtually through MSD, families can contact the principal of their student’s school. Non-WIAA athletics include intramurals and middle school sports.
“This is not a perfect solution,” Briddell said. “What we’re trying to do is offer as much as we can with what we have. We feel it is important to recognize how important it is to stay connected as a school family, and an extended school family, in these circumstances.”
The new learning model will take effect on Jan. 26 and run through the remainder of the school year. Families interested in the extended WIVA option will need to contact their principal to determine a specific plan of action.