ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Roanoke County Public Schools gave its students the choice to learn all-online this semester. Director of Secondary Instruction Mike Riley said that will not become mandatory for all students, despite other school districts switching to all-virtual learning.
“What the data has shown us is you can’t replace that face-to-face interaction with a teacher,” Riley said. “It’s hard, but that’s what we’re tasked with. We’re going to do what’s best for our kids.”
Pulaski County Schools experienced all-virtual learning earlier this year, but has since returned all of its elementary school students and half of its middle and high school students to in-person learning.
“Childhood is tough under good circumstances. These students are dealing with issues that weren’t even imaginable this time last year,” Pulaski County Superintendent Ken Siers said.
Their decisions follow the Virginia Education Association’s request for all school districts in the commonwealth to go online until mid-January. In a video posted to the organization’s page, VEA president James Fedderman said he wants school districts to take extra measures for safety during the holidays.
“Learning losses will be made up, but loss of life can not be,” Fedderman said.”
Both Roanoke and Pulaski County said students in all-online environments have fallen short of academic expectations compared to their in-person peers. Roanoke County reports 10% of all-online middle school students and 14% of all-online high school students are failing classes, compared to 5% of in-person middle school students and 6% of in-person high school students.
“We’re looking to hopefully bring back our more vulnerable kids, the students that are really struggling, into the classroom if we can do it safely,” Riley said.
“The failure rates are higher this year than they have been in previous years, but they are significantly higher with the virtual students,” Siers said. “I wouldn’t say I disagree with the VEA’s stance, but school administrators are looking at a bigger picture.”