Prince William County Schools will restrict virtual learning to 1,000 K-8 students who meet a strict criteria for the 2022-23 school year, the division announced Wednesday.
Last summer, when the district was returning to five days per week of in-person learning for most students, any families that asked to remain virtual were allowed to do so and could return to in-person learning at any point.
Things will look very different in the fall, with an admissions process for virtual K-8 learning with a cap of only 1,000 students whose families “must commit to a full year of participation in the full-time virtual learning program.” High schoolers can still go virtual through Virtual Virginia, as was the case before the pandemic.
According to the announcement Wednesday, virtual K-8 learning will be available only to students in three groups: those with a health condition “associated with a weakened immune system,” siblings of current county students with such conditions, and other students who meet the admission criteria and are selected by a lottery.
“Two years of analysis of student performance in a full-time virtual learning environment have provided strong evidence that average to above average levels of motivation, self-regulation, and independent work habits are critical to successful outcomes,” the division’s announcement reads.
To be eligible in the third category, a K-2 student must have S grades or better this year, and C’s or better for grades three through eight. They must also receive work habits and conduct/effort grades of S or better and have no more than 14 non-illness related absences.
Through three quarters this year, in-person students have tended to perform better academically and in terms of attendance, according to data presented at the most recent School Board meeting.
“Basically, anyone flunking virtual right now has no business being in virtual next year,” School Board Chair Babur Lateef told InsideNoVa. “So, we frankly believe that in-person schooling is the gold standard and everyone should be in school. We recognize that there are reasons why some can’t be, but if you’re failing in virtual, we’re not going to allow that to continue. You’re going to have to come in.”
The number of virtual students has also declined throughout the school year, with virtual students being able to move to in-person learning at any time. At the end of the first quarter, the division had 2,331 virtual students (just 2.6% of the total student population). By the end of the third quarter, the number was down to 1,915, or 2.1%.
Superintendent LaTanya McDade, whose new strategic plan sets out lofty goals for academic performance in the wake of dramatic grade and testing declines from in 2020 and 2021, has long insisted that virtual schooling is no replacement for in-person instruction. She even came under pressure from a minority of parents at the start of the school year who wanted to pull their children out of in-person learning and put them back into virtual, but McDade and the division stuck with the original deadline for virtual registration.
“We know that in-person learning, there is no substitute or replacement for that. … We are taking a hard look at what’s happening in the virtual space,” she said at the last Board meeting.