Unvaccinated students may push enrollment to the limit in WCCUSD’s virtual high school in January
on December 6, 2021
Administrators at Vista Virtual Academy, West Contra Costa Unified School District’s virtual K-12 independent study program, are scrambling to fill teacher positions ahead of a January deadline when unvaccinated students will no longer be allowed to attend in-person classes.
If students at district schools are not vaccinated against COVID-19. by Jan. 3, they will be transferred to Vista Virtual by Jan. 17. The only other options for unvaccinated students are a medical exemption or to unenroll from the district, according to WCCUSD’s vaccine policy.
Vista Virtual launched in August. Before that, WCCUSD had Vista High School, an in-person independent study program for grades seven-12 that launched in the 1980s. With independent study, students are supervised by a teacher but have more autonomy in their own learning.
Some in the district have expressed concern that virtual independent study is not right for every student. However, many school districts across the state, including Oakland Unified School District and Los Angeles Unified School District, have made it the only option for unvaccinated students.
“Distance learning, virtual schooling is not for everyone and that should not be the only option,” Carole Peters, a WCCUSD teacher, said at a Sept. 30 board meeting.
The school board also has concerns. At an Oct. 19 meeting, board members questioned whether the district will be prepared in January to address an increase in enrollment at Vista. Teacher shortages and ensuring student success in a virtual independent study program were among their concerns.
Board member Jamela Smith-Folds said Vista Virtual was developed to be a small program of under 100 students but that concept has been altered considerably. As of Nov. 9, Vista Virtual had 390 students and 22 full-time staff memebers, with approximately 250 students on a growing waitlist.
“The board needs to call back virtual school and take a deeper look at it because what we voted on is not what we have,” Smith-Folds said.
Principle Edith Jordan-McCormick said the district is working on interviewing and hiring teachers so the school can address the waitlist and prepare for the influx of students in January. Hiring teachers has always been a challenge, she said. A widespread shortage of teachers is making that task more difficult for districts across the country.
“I think education probably needs to shift because we need people to want to be in these roles right now,” Jordan-McCormick said.
LaResha Martin, WCCUSD’s chief academic officer and associate superintendent, said teachers also might transfer from other high schools to Vista Virtual, depending on the numbers of unvaccinated students who will need to be moved.
“If we have large numbers of students who are in particular schools that transition out because they are not going to receive the vaccination, then we’re also going to be looking at how many in-person teachers are now needed at that school site,” Martin said.
As for concerns about whether the independent study model can work for a variety of students, Kaitlin Marchesi, Vista Virtual’s education specialist for grades four to six, said it is crafted to do just that.
“We have so much more flexibility with how we do things and we can really adapt the program to fit a kid’s needs,” she said.
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