Citing under-education, SPS is outsourcing virtual learning for grades 6-12 for 2021-2022

by Ari Robin McKenna


Last week, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) announced to parents via their newsletter that the Virtual Option Pilot Program (VOPP) would be limited to Kindergarten to Grade 5. Students in Grades 6 through 12 who want virtual learning options will receive a list of suggested external virtual programs. This came back to a June 17 announcement that the VOPP would be kindergarten to grade 12 and drew immediate criticism from the Seattle Education Association (SEA).

In a recent conversation with the emeraldSPS Associate Superintendent Dr Concie Pedroza cited the low enrollment numbers for the K-12 pilot project, the complexity of college and high school course offerings, and the resulting staffing challenges as key factors in the district decision.

In an SPS student survey conducted at the end of last school year and completed by about half of all middle school and high school students, 6% of high school students and 7% of middle school students indicated that they would like to continue learning at distance in the future.

Pedroza said the district’s goal was to accept around 300 K-5 students and 300 K-12 students into the pilot project, but as actual enrollment rolled in, the pilot in grades 6 to 12 ceased to make sense. Fewer than 150 students aged 6 to 12 have enrolled, and Pedroz said they would be scattered across six grade levels and many programs.

A former K-5, K-8 and high school principal, Pedroza made a distinction between running K-5 and 6-12 virtual learning programs. She said it’s a lot easier to mix grades at the elementary level, whereas in middle and high school “it’s a lot harder to mix programming and mix classes so that students actually get the credits they want. they need “. Pedroza was also surprised to see that there had not been a peak in VOPP enrollment among the approximately 3,000 incoming unvaccinated sixth graders – who are still not yet on the county’s immunization schedule.

In a press release last Thursday, August 5, the SEA berated the SPS for reneging on its “commitment to provide a virtual option for middle and high school families this fall” and alleged that the SPS “has failed. withdrawn from negotiations and prematurely announced the elimination of the virtual secondary option without informing us at the negotiating table. The SEA statement also read: “We know that a disproportionate number of families who have chosen the virtual option were families of color and we believe it is fully within the competence and responsibility of SPS to meet the needs of these students. “Although demographic statistics on those enrolled in the VOPP are not yet available, a survey Ministry of Education survey conducted last year clearly showed that families of color were significantly less likely to send their children away for in-person learning during of the last school year in each demographic group measure.

Pedroza has not escaped SPS’s need for growth by providing equitable learning opportunities. She mentioned her son, who is Latino and Arab, and has a disability. She says any academic program, virtual or otherwise, should be able to honor her child’s entire identity. When asked if the SPS decision to limit VOPP deprioritized students of color, she said:

“I am a parent in the system and I understand. It’s not the best answer, but it was the best in terms of what we need to do to support families. Parenting a child of color is hard enough in any system – not just Seattle public schools, any district – we need people to be honest with us. what Seattle is trying to do is be really genuine and say, ‘Look, we can’t meet your needs, but we’re going to help you figure out what’s the best thing for you to do for your child. It’s not about staying in our workforce, it’s about making sure you get what you need to support your child in the best decision, and that’s what we try to do.

SPS VOPP K-5 registration continues through August 13, and families of students ages 6 to 12 can view SPS-approved list of virtual learning providers. While all are free and ostensibly public, some rely more than others on true educators. The Federal Way Internet Academy, for example, has been around since 1996 and has 30 full-time teachers, while others will effectively take some of their public money and donate it to companies like Edgenuity.

Pedroza said the district’s focus quickly shifted to helping families in their decision-making process. “We have had our customer service, our ombudsman’s office, our special education service and our McKinney-Vento services that call all families [in grades 6–12 who had enrolled in VOPP]. They started the day after the information was released. i believe monday [Aug. 9] we call families that we could not reach. And we’ll be calling everyone until we talk to each family personally… And in fact, I can share that on Thursday every special education family that was on this list was notified. Pedroza says the district is also planning follow-up phone calls for families who need them to provide personalized counseling, and she says some of those calls will be made by program experts or educators from their local school. child.


Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and program developer in Brooklyn, NY; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, WA before moving to South Seattle. He writes about education for the emerald. Contact him here.

?? Featured Image: After schools closed in March 2020, a community member walks the trail outside Franklin High School in south Seattle. (Photo: Sharon Ho Chang)

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