Vernon School Board expands virtual program

By Pamela Sleezer

The Vernon Parish School Board is expanding its virtual school program to include students in grades kindergarten through third for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, according to school officials, and is reopening the application window for students in all other grades to seek virtual instruction before school begins this month.

The district’s virtual school plan for this year will require all students learning virtually to maintain “academic integrity,” which school officials defined as attending daily, live instruction online with their virtual teacher. Students must also maintain access to reliable high-speed internet, complete assignments on time by their due dates and maintain passing grades, officials said.

If at any time a student is failing to maintain the requirements of the virtual school program, they may be removed from the virtual program at the discretion of their school principal, according to the plan. Students must also remain virtual for a minimum nine-week period, and may only change their academic setting once during the school year.

School Board Superintendent James Williams announced the adjustments to the virtual school program on Tuesday, less than a week after publicly addressing the backlash board members have received from parents and caregivers regarding Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order requiring students ages 5 and up to wear face masks while attending school.

In a public message released Tuesday along with the virtual school expansion details, Williams said school board members are now receiving questions from parents and caregivers about whether the district must comply with the governor’s order.

“Our legal counsel has advised us that we are obligated to comply with the governor’s proclamation and that ignoring it may jeopardize our ability to enjoy the immunities granted by the legislature to protect our public funds,” Williams stated in his message.

“As Superintendent and as Board Members, we took an oath to follow the law. That oath does not afford us the option of choosing which laws to comply with and which to dismiss, much like we do not afford our students the option of determining which school rules they will follow.”

Despite widening the virtual school program, Williams stressed the school board’s mission is to keep schools open and allow students to safely learn in-person, even with masks being worn.

“We know that kids learn better in the actual classroom and that they gain important social skills when they interact with each other in person. The use of masks will allow us a greater chance at achieving those goals,” he said.

The latest requirements for in-person school will also require less stringent quarantine protocol for students considered “close contacts,” or those who are in close proximity to others students who test positive, if the guidelines are followed. The new protocol will not require close contacts to quarantine if both parties wore masks and were socially distanced by at least three feet during the exposure.

Edwards’ order is set to expire on Sept 1. If it is not extended, Vernon Parish students will only be required to wear face masks for 14 days of the school year.