The NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) this week sent a final report on virtual academies to the General Assembly, calling for expanded opportunities for PSUs to operate virtual academies. The report was the result of COVID-19 relief legislation passed by state lawmakers in August of 2021, which required NCDPI to establish a Working Group on Virtual Academies and make recommendations on the use of virtual academies in our state. The Working Group was comprised of district administrators, NCDPI and State Board of Education (SBE) staff, school mental health professionals, special education experts, teachers, parents, consultants, and representatives from outside education groups. Over the past few months, Working Group members have researched and compiled information for the following report requirement areas: standard definitions of “virtual instruction” and “virtual academies;” requirements for the authorization of virtual academies; and additional requirements for virtual academies, including but not limited to infrastructure, instructional, personnel, and participation requirements.
The report introduction notes North Carolina’s “rich history of offering virtual learning opportunities,” stating, “While an emergency transition to remote instruction was problematic for many students, high-quality, purposeful virtual learning in North Carolina has provided many students rich opportunities for over 20 years.” The report notes that from 2018-2019 to present, NC schools have increased from 5 full virtual academies to 61, with 4 applications for new virtual academies currently pending.
The report concludes with several recommendations to expand opportunities for virtual academies, including allowing additional schools that wish to develop their own virtual academies to be able to apply for a school number. In addition, “virtual academies that currently have a school number should not be required to relinquish that school number on June 30, 2022.” Current state law prevents any school that did not have a school code prior to May 1, 2021 from using virtual instruction to satisfy instructional days or hours past June 30, 2022, but the report recommends these virtual academies be allowed to continue and that “the issuance of school codes for Virtual Academies be resumed.” As stated in the report conclusion, “Schools have voiced their need to maintain competitive approach to education by utilizing virtual instruction as part of standard instructional practice.” Access a copy of the full report submitted to the General Assembly HERE.