13 MA school districts submit plan for virtual school in fall

13 Massachusetts school districts — including the largest four in the state — are planning to offer some form of virtual school in the upcoming school year, according to the Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE).

School administrators from Attleboro, Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Falmouth, Lowell, Natick, Peabody, Pittsfield, Quabbin Regional School District, Springfield, Westfield and Worcester submitted proposals to DESE before the Thursday deadline. DESE will review and comment on each proposal.

Last week, Boston 25 reported Boston Public Schools is exploring the possibility of launching a full-time virtual school. The district emailed parents Apr. 26 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.

DESE sent schools a memo Apr. 2, guiding them on what a virtual school should look like and what would be required.

“It is important to note that, nationally, the performance of virtual schools is decidedly mixed…districts should carefully weigh the extent to which a full-time district-operated virtual school would result in strong educational outcomes for students,” the memo said.

Jolanda Pressey said her 12-year-old daughter has done really well with remote-learning at Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan. Pressey said she would consider keeping her daughter in a full-time virtual school this fall.

“I’m half and half on it. I’m still trying to figure it out, making sure it’s really safe, because the kids still aren’t vaccinated so it’s kind of hard,” Pressey said.

Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said last week 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. But he admits the national data on the long-term effects of virtual learning “is not great.”

“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.