Families opting for all-virtual options in big numbers


Categories: News, Schenectady County

Thousands of Schenectady City School District students have chosen to continue learning from home at the start of the school year – a mark of persistent concerns among families about sending kids back to school.

And large shares of students are opting for all-remote options in other districts, too.

Nearly 4,800 Schenectady students selected the district’s all-virtual option out of nearly 8,000 students who have made a decision, or about 60 percent of students, according to district spokesperson Karen Corona.

The district offered families the option to choose between a hybrid model of some in-person instruction and some virtual learning or the all-remote “Virtual Academy,” which will run separately from the hybrid model.

The numbers mark one of the first indicators of how families are feeling about a return to school next month under extraordinary new health and social distance precautions.

The district has also promised a revamped virtual approach that will give students a set daily schedule and include live interaction with teachers and other students.

“All of our students if you are in the virtual academy will have synchronous class each and every day,” Schenectady interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak said during a virtual forum Thursday, using “synchronous” to refer to live online classes with students and teachers joining at the same time to engage directly. “It’s more the type of instruction you would expect to happen with a teacher in class just in a virtual environment.”

In the Greater Amsterdam School District, nearly 1,000 students have opted for that district’s remote-only option, which officials initially resisted but created after a flood of interest for an all-virtual option. Around 970 of the district’s roughly 3,700 students have opted for the remote-only option, or roughly 26 percent, according to district spokesperson John Noetzel.

“It’s a pretty substantial number,” Amsterdam Superintendent Richard Ruberti said during a virtual question-and-answer session Wednesday.

Just over 900 students in the Shenendehowa Central School District have chosen its fully-virtual option, and district officials extended a deadline for parents to make their selection to next week to give families more time to land on a decision, according to an online presentation officials conducted Thursday. District officials said they expect about 10 to 15 percent of the district’s roughly 10,000 students to ultimately select the completely-virtual option.

Mohonasen Superintendent Shannon Shine on Thursday said 26 percent of the district’s students have opted for the fully-virtual option so far.

Most districts around the region provided parents and students the choice to opt for an all-remote learning option to start the school year. Districts are asking families to commit to that option for a set period of time – as much as a full semester in some places – and shaping in-person instruction plans based on the number of students who opt for the all-remote option.

In Schenectady, families are asked to commit to 10 weeks in the virtual academy, making another 10-week decision after that. Other districts are looking for families to commit to the remote option for a full quarter, trimester or semester, depending on the district and grade level.

Bochniak indicated that the high number of students opting for Schenectady’s virtual academy could open enough space in school buildings to increase the amount of time other students are able to spend in school buildings; he suggested it was possible most other students could attend school in person on a daily basis.

Districts set deadlines for parents to make a selection, with some districts pushing those deadlines from this week to next week. But district officials have said they need parents to decide soon, so they can finalize student groupings and schedules. And while many district officials have indicated they will allow students to switch from in-person instruction to an all-remote option outside of the specific commitment periods, its unlikely all-remote students will be allowed to switch to the in-person model outside of those certain times.

“If we could give more time, we really would,” Elizabeth Wood, Shenendehowa assistant superintendent for instruction, said during Thursday’s forum. Wood noted the complexity of establishing a schedule for thousands of students in the district – a process that usually starts months before a new school year is set to being complete within a month.

The all-virtual models will look different from district to district, with some districts relying on staff who have to work remotely for personal health reasons to support the remote programs, while other districts plan to have virtual students log in to classes being taught to students in person. In Amsterdam, in-person schedules will be slightly shortened compared to a typical school year, so that teachers can devote a portion of each day to interacting directly with all-remote students.

“Each day they will have access to their teacher – even if it’s for an hour,” Ruberti said of the district’s all-remote option.

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