SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — How would you like your children to do virtual learning full-time even past the pandemic?
Right now, parents have that option in Missouri, but they have to request with their local school district first. A Missouri lawmaker wants to give parents more freedom and remove those requirements.
But there are some concerns that this legislation could open the doors to losing a critical part of education – in-person connections, and in some instances, putting the most vulnerable students at risk.
Once a parent requests virtual learning, teachers, counselors, principals get together to assess if that’s the best option for that student.
Dr. Josh Chastain, the executive director of curriculum and instruction at Nixa Public Schools, says staff considers several things before deciding.
“Internet is one of those things. Age matters. Why are we going to virtual? Making sure they are self-motivated,” Dr. Chastain said.
Senate Bill 95, sponsored by State Senator Bob Onder, would allow parents to decide themselves without the school district’s approval.
“It worries us a little bit because it takes the partnership out of it, and public education is a partnership,” Chastain said.
He says not all students succeed with virtual learning success, something the district learned last year when all students had to go to virtual.
“It’s like when a parent in seated might say ‘my child is in third grade, but they need to be in fifth grade.’ That’s a decision we can look at, but you have to look at what’s best for that child. Same thing with virtual.”
For Laura Farmer with CASA, one concern goes beyond the classroom.
“I think if we learned anything this past year is that schools play a much bigger role than just educating our children and our youth,” she said.
That role, she says, is crucial for some students in vulnerable situations.
“Our schools are a haven for a lot of kids, especially our kids that maybe aren’t living in the best conditions at home, she said. “They also get fed at school.”
Farmer says nationally, teachers account for 25 percent of all calls that go to the Child Abuse and Neglect hotline.
“That tells me that our teachers and our daycare workers are that first line of defense for our kids who are living in unsafe circumstances,” she said.
Under SB 95, the district would be accountable for the student’s test scores and responsible for paying for the virtual program, which Chastain says can cost from $4-6,000 a year per virtual learner.
“Protecting the data, protecting the funding, those are things that come into play with that, but relationships are built when students have those connections with us,” he said.
The bill is currently waiting to be heard in the Senate.