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Carroll County Board of Education cancels virtual school program for 2021-22 due to low enrollment

The Carroll County Public Schools system will not be moving forward with its plan for virtual school during the 2020-21 academic year.

School leaders told the Board of Education on Wednesday that less than 1% of students were signed up for the alternative learning platform that was created for families who did not want students participating in the full-time, in-person learning scheduled for the upcoming school year.

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The virtual program was first presented to the board in May and was only for students with coronavirus-related medical concerns. The temporary program would have had staff dedicated only to virtual learning and a relatively small number of courses available compared to classes offered in person.

Greg Bricca, director of Carroll’s already existing virtual learning program, said only 145 students of the more than 24,000 total enrolled in the school system applied for the 2021-22 program. And he noted that not all the applicants would have been approved. School leaders initially expected between 1% and 5% of the student population to join; however, only about .5% requested enrollment, he said.

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Bricca also noted that Howard County’s school system, with more than double the student population of Carroll, pulled back from providing a virtual program for its secondary students. About 40% of the public school systems in Maryland are offering kindergarten-12th grade virtual learning programs, while about 30% each are offering the program solely to secondary students or are split, he added.

“We did not receive the enrollment we thought we would,” Superintendent Steve Lockard said.

Lockard said later that school leaders wanted to first discuss the program with the board before sending letters to families announcing the program’s cancellation.

Bricca said staff are still vetting the applications, but he imagines the majority would have been eligible.

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Board member Ken Kiler asked what the other options are parents can choose instead.

Karl Streaker, director of student services, said the home and hospital teaching could be a program for those who qualify. The two categories of the program are physical injury or chronic health conditions as well as emotional conditions. He said the program usually has 125 to 175 students a year; however, students are typically enrolled temporarily. Elementary or middle school students receive six hours of service a week and high school students receive eight hours.

The virtual program would have been funded through state and federal funding and was expected to cost approximately $2 million. Board member Donna Sivigny noted the money would have had to go toward enhancing the home and hospital program if the virtual school applicants transferred programs.

Streaker agreed.

“It’s not an easy decision, but it’s probably the right decision and it needs to be done quickly,” Kiler said, referencing sending letters out to parents.

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