By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on September 9, 2021
After voting unanimously to require universal masking in all school buildings on Sept. 1, the Dare County Board of Education also moved to re-open registration for the virtual learning option with a deadline of Sept. 6 at 5 p.m.
Following the close of that registration, the number of students in virtual learning has jumped from 260 to 312, with 67 Dare County students in kindergarten through 12th grade opting to leave in-person learning in the school buildings for virtual learning. By comparison, 15 students chose to return to the classroom.
While the numbers aren’t particularly large, about four times the number of students moved into virtual learning after that vote than went back into the classroom. The 312 students how in virtual learning represents 6 percent of the 5,172 students currently enrolled in the school system.
As part of the school board’s Sept. 1 vote, students will be required to stick with their options through the first semester, which ends on January 22. Whether to extend the virtual option into the second semester would have to be determined by the board.
Board of Education Chair Mary Ellon Ballance made the motion on Sept. 1 to re-open the virtual option for parents who may want to change their students’ status based on the board’s vote for universal masking, which generated some protests from the audience at that meeting.
“I think it’s only fair that we would offer the virtual option to those parents that aren’t comfortable putting a mask on their child as we did for the other side,” she asserted. “I know it’s not ideal and we obviously want our children in school as much as possible. But under the circumstances, I think it’s important that we do continue to provide as many options for parents as we are able to provide.”
Board member David Twiddy disagreed and cast the sole dissenting vote. “I’m really not comfortable with that, I think we’re gonna have more parents opt into virtual learning because” of the mask mandate, he said. “I want them in the building, and I don’t want virtual learning. They are not doing what needs to be done in virtual learning.”
Virtual learning this year looks different, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly noted at the meeting, adding that it is not the “Cadillac version that it was last year.”
“The rigor in teacher-student interaction in virtual this year is much different and scaled back than compared to the previous year,” he said.
Elementary students are assigned a Dare County Schools teacher with instructional delivery being both synchronous and asynchronous with the potential for live virtual meetings to be limited, according to a Sept. 2 email from Farrelly announcing the opportunity for virtual learning change status.
As for grades six through 12, instruction is primarily delivered asynchronously through APEX Learning and North Carolina Virtual Public Schools courses. There is a potential, according to the email, for students to be assigned a Dare County Schools teacher who will monitor grades, attendance and be available for student questions or support.