Alaska partners with Florida-based virtual school for K-12 students

Gov. Mike Dunleavy (Governor Dunleavy / Flickr)

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Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy launched a new virtual school for Alaska’s K-12 students in partnership with a Florida education program last week.

Alaska’s school buildings are closed to students until at least May 1 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers are delivering classes remotely. The Alaska Statewide Virtual School was launched in partnership with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Florida Virtual School, which was created in 1997 and offers nearly 200 online courses to more than 200,000 students across all 50 states. The program allows K-12 students in Alaska to register for online classes for free through the end of the school year in May.

The program will expand options for Alaska’s K-12 students who are learning from home right now to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson.

“School is more than a location – education can happen anywhere,” he said in a press release.

As of Friday, the Florida Virtual School had enrolled about 80 Alaska students, Alaska Public Media reported. Classes will be taught by Florida-based teachers certified in that state, but the Florida staff is also contracted to train up to 50 Alaska teachers to move their own classes online and help the state transition to Alaska-based educators teaching the classes.

Alaska students can use the classes as supplements during the rest of the school year, or as graded courses. No one is forced to use them, Johnson told Alaska Public Media. However, the new partnership has received some criticism from Alaska’s educators.

“The ‘4th quarter solution’ that is suggested through the purchase of this Florida version of distance delivery is seen as an insult to most, if not all, teachers in the state who have been supporting their students,” Juneau Schools Superintendent Bridget Weiss told Alaska Public Media.

Teachers were not told of the program in advance and were made aware of the new Alaska Statewide Virtual School on Tuesday — the same day the education department published a press release about it, and the first day students could register for the Florida classes.

The Florida Virtual School has also found itself in hot water over a management scandal in 2019 when six members of its board of trustees resigned after Florida’s education department released a report that said the school was plagued by “recurring leadership crises,” and needed a new board and new ethics standards.

But Dunleavy said the new partnership will ultimately help Alaska’s students during this time of education disruption.

“COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our daily lives, but it has not changed Alaska’s commitment to student learning,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “We need Alaska’s students to keep learning so they can become leaders for times like this in the future.”

Alaska’s broadband providers have also offered free internet to students and teachers, increased speeds and usage allowances, and are working with school districts to find ways to expand service to support education in the most remote parts of Alaska to support the transition to online learning.

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