To hear them tell, St. Tammany has been working on a virtual option for students for some time now. Some families need more flexibility, some families travel a lot, or maybe medical issues make school unsafe for a child. Whatever the reason, this has been in the works and St. Tammany has happily revealed it for the 2020-21 school year. The problem, however, is that virtual school doesn’t necessarily solve the problems that this year’s students face. This year, many students who were served in regular public school and happy there are scared. They want regular school, but the price is too high for one reason or another: maybe they live with a grandparent or maybe they have diabetes. There are a million reasons why someone might not feel safe this year. So while it is admirable that St. Tammany is providing us with such a good option for children to learn from home, there are still some issues that come into play for those considering it for this year.
For some families a particular high school is part of a family tradition. Maybe all their aunts, uncles, cousins, and parents all graduated from Mandeville High School. My own husband is a graduate of Fontainebleau and we live in that district and I have always thought it would be nice for our children to graduate from the same school as their father. Not a deal-breaker, but nice. If students are seniors this year and they do not feel safe attending their district high school, they will find themselves attending the virtual school. I assume they will then graduate from the virtual school. It may seem like a small thing but does the virtual school have colors? A ring? A graduation ceremony? All of this is something that must be considered if your child is going to be a senior this year.
Differing Start Dates
*Editor’s note: it has come to our attention that the start date of virtual school has been moved to match the start date of brick and mortar, so this section is no longer applicable. Hooray for progress!*
St. Tammany has now moved back the start of school twice. When asked at a school board meeting if this would affect the start date for virtual school the answer from the administration was no. So Virtual school will not brick and mortar. This will mean starting back several weeks earlier and then being ahead of the brick and mortar schools. If your child is in regular school and then wants to transfer into virtual, they will be behind. For a more seamless experience one would hope they could get these two calendars to match.
This is a biggie for many parents and students. At this time, the virtual school does not offer any extracurricular activities. While they may eventually be able to have virtual student council or similar, some things just can’t be online. Football and marching band, for instance, are typically outdoor activities that many students may be comfortable with even if they are not comfortable sitting indoors for hours each day. They will not be able to do either if they attend virtual school. For athletes there is still some question as to whether they will be eligible to play sports even if and when they return to their district school the following year. My request sent to LSHAA to clarify this was returned with a note instructing me to read the handbook. Regardless, we are definitely asking students to choose to give up a year of something they love to guarantee they won’t be exposed to covid or won’t accidentally expose a family member or teacher to covid. Now it is possible that covid numbers will never be such that marching band and football are never allowed this year, but making it impossible from the jump does seem short-sighted.
While nothing on this list is a deal-breaker, it does seem a little absurd that nothing is being done to address any of these issues. That puts pressure on students to stay in the brick and mortar schools even if they don’t feel safe being there or worry about the safety of someone in their home. It seems to me that a little creative thinking might be able to remove one, two, or even all of these obstacles.