BPS exploring full-time ‘virtual school’ option for 2021-22

BOSTON — Boston Public Schools is looking to make remote-learning a permanent option for students in the upcoming school year. The district emailed parents Wednesday to gauge the level of interest in a full-time virtual school option “to understand demand for planning purposes.”

The email included a link to a survey.

“BPS is just beginning to explore this option and will provide more information once we review responses. This is the first step to understand the level of interest in our community,” a BPS spokesperson said in an email to Boston 25 News.

“If BPS adopts a virtual school model, this would be an option for families. The district will not be fully remote and will provide in-person learning for students next school year,” the spokesperson said.

The district told parents the experience of a virtual school would be similar to attending a physical school building, with a virtual homeroom, BPS teachers, a principal and “rigorous instruction.” Students would be provided with computers and internet access, according to the email.

Any virtual school option would still need to be approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the district said.

Proposals for a single-district virtual school need to be submitted to DESE by May 6.

“Several districts have expressed interest. We have not received a proposal from Boston yet,” a DESE spokesperson said.

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Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said she supports the proposal and is working with the district on the finer details.

“I think they’re trying to get a sense of how many families might be interested in this,” Tang said. “We have heard from parents who said their students have actually done really well remotely. They still have concerns about the fall because of the lack of accessibility for vaccines for students under the age of 16.”

Dr. John Sargent, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Tufts Children’s Hospital, said some students may thrive in remote-learning.

“Perhaps your kid is being bullied. Perhaps they’re shy and school is a stressful experience for them and they’re still learning fine. You want to make sure they’re developing in all the ways you care about,” Dr. Sargent said.

But he admits the national data on the long-term effects of virtual learning “is not great.”

Dorchester 5th grader Reyani Miles said she actually preferred learning from home during the pandemic, but there are a lot of things about school she would miss.

“I would miss my friends, I would miss Field Day. I would miss the stuff that you can’t do at home,” Miles said.

West Roxbury mom Shelia said virtual school wouldn’t be the right choice for her kids, a high school freshman and a junior.

“My thing is, they’re missing the bonds with the teachers. It’s hard to get a bond with a teacher virtually,” Shelia said.

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