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Brazos Valley schools districts face obstacles as virtual learning bill passes

Posted at 9:30 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 22:30:00-04

The Texas House Public Education Committee passed Senate Bill 15 this week on a 9-to-1 vote, in an effort to provide funding for virtual learning in public schools.

Some Brazos Valley parents have been inquiring about a virtual learning option for their children. Districts want to be able to offer virtual learning, but there are several obstacles to get over first. For Bryan ISD, all the equipment and funding are available to proceed with a virtual learning option.

“So all of the components we need to offer virtual school are already in place," said Barbara Ybarra, associate superintendent of teaching and learning at Bryan ISD. "What we’re lacking is the permission from the state of Texas to do so."

Jeff Mann, College Station ISD's director of instruction and leadership development, echoed the same sentiment noting that, at this point, a student learning completely online would not be counted as ‘present in class’ by the state.

“Last year the state allowed funding for virtual instruction due to the pandemic, and this year they’re not," Mann explained. "So whenever we have kids – if we were to offer virtual instruction, they wouldn’t count it towards our average daily attendance, our ADA.”

Currently, the Bryan and College Station school districts are looking to hire teachers dedicated solely to virtual teaching. Bryan ISD's job postings are already available on their website, and CSISD's should be available by the end of the week.

“So unlike last year, our teachers kind of did a little bit of both [in person and virtual learning]," Ybarra said. "In this situation, the legislation is very clear, that they want dedicated staff members who do just virtual school, and have training to do so.”

As SB-15 is written at the moment, should virtual learning be reinstated, only ten percent of a school’s population would be able to attend these online courses. Additionally, this virtual learning would not be an option for kids out sick or quarantining temporarily. It would be all or nothing with the virtual course.

“This would be a full-time virtual school," Mann said. "And so, if a kid gets sick, it would be no different than... if an average third-grade student that broke their arm over the weekend, and had to miss the first three or four days of school because they had to go to the doctor in a cast, they would have makeup work.”

CSISD officials say they would plan to offer courses primarily to grades kindergarten through six.