About 1,400 students across Frederick County will forgo in-person instruction this fall and opt for all-virtual schooling instead, the Board of Education said Wednesday.
In total, 1,437 kindergarten-through-12th grade students will comprise the county’s new Blended Virtual Program, which will function, in many ways, like its own school. It will host 550 elementary schoolers, 363 middle schoolers and 524 high schoolers.
Those numbers represent just 3 percent of Frederick County Public Schools’ elementary schoolers, 4 percent of its middle schoolers and 3 percent of its high schoolers. The system received 34,000 responses to its survey asking parents which option they preferred.
That response rate “was truly the best turnout we’ve ever had,” said Jamie Aliveto, FCPS’ director of system accountability and school administration. But she acknowledged the virtual program’s numbers were small.
“It’s not a lot,” she said.
Children of parents who didn’t fill out the survey were automatically listed as in-person students, Aliveto added. And students enrolled in the virtual program are only committed for the first semester, after which they’ll have the option to transfer.
Aliveto and Kevin Cuppett, FCPS’ curriculum and instruction director, provided preliminary details Wednesday on how the virtual program will function. Students will attend synchronous daily classes hosted via Google Meet. Their assignments and some class activities, meanwhile, will be asynchronous.
“One of the things we think is important in any virtual design is to balance the online-offline assignments for students,” Cuppett said, “which is why this won't be a continuous stream of Google Meets for all kids at all times.”
The virtual program will have its own principals, teachers, counselors, secretary and technology specialist. While four administrators have already been announced, FCPS is in the process of hiring teachers and support staff.
Staff at the Frederick County Virtual School — which has offered online classes to high schoolers since long before the pandemic — will cover a lot of the new program’s high school staffing needs, Aliveto said.
“We’ve essentially asked them to add 534 students and create a schedule for them,” she said. At the elementary and middle levels, though, things are more complicated.
Though no single school is losing more than 8 percent of its pupils to the virtual program, students in the feeder patterns for Oakdale, TJ and Frederick high schools were most likely to choose it, Aliveto said.
“That is consistent across levels,” she said. “That is really a feeder trend that we are seeing.”
Even if they’re in the virtual program, students will have opportunities to stay connected with their home schools, Cuppett said — where they will still be officially listed as enrolled. They can participate in sports or extracurricular activities there, and they’ll still receive school-wide communications through the Schoology platform.
Funding for the program comes through a combination of state coronavirus relief money and FCPS’ operating budget. It’s still unclear where staff will be housed or how long the program will be offered.
“I think it’s really neat to see the data coming in and to see this new program being born,” board member Sue Johnson said Wednesday night. “It’s kind of a little unnerving, but at the same time … I’ve been really happy with everything I’ve seen.”