As the new school year approaches, your kids may be eager to return in person to classrooms. Or you may have discovered during the pandemic that they are stronger students from home — more focused, or less anxious, or better able to fit in practices or other commitments.
Whether you are looking for online options because your children prefer virtual school or because you are concerned about their safety as coronavirus cases are increasing again, there are new and expanded public K-12 choices this fall.
At least two Utah school districts — Jordan and Salt Lake City — are offering new online schools, which students living anywhere in Utah can attend. Other districts have expanded their programs, also generally available to students who live outside their borders.
These join other statewide opportunities, such as Utah Online School, part of the Washington County School District, and online charter schools, including Utah Connections Academy and Utah Virtual Academy, which both saw surges in enrollment last year.
Salt Lake City School District
The Salt Lake City School District will offer an online school for K-6 students starting this fall, the district announced July 21. All Utah K-6 students can enroll, though those who live outside the district will need to fill out an open enrollment form available at the district’s website.
Kenneth Limb, who will be the principal of Salt Lake Virtual Elementary, previously told The Salt Lake Tribune the venture is a direct result of the state jumping to online schooling last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we learned new ways to do things and that we can be effective online,” he said. “And in fact, there are students and parents who need and/or want [school] online.”
Prior to the pandemic, Limb said, the district was part of a consortium where high school students could take online, asynchronous classes, but the expectation was that students would complete most classes in person.
Now, the district has hired one teacher per grade level for Salt Lake Virtual Elementary and expects about 25 students will enroll per class, he said. The schedule will include online classroom instruction four days a week and optional group instruction one day a week.
A district computer will be provided to each student. Families can enroll students at bit.ly/3y2HRXm.
Middle school students interested in continuing with remote learning can work with teachers and administrators to schedule remote or in-person classes as needed, the district said.
High school students could consider Innovations Early College High School, which allows them to build their own schedules, selecting courses from Salt Lake Community College, the district’s career and technical center, and the district’s traditional high schools. Students work through digital classes at their own pace but are expected to be on campus six and a half hours a day, where face-to-face teachers provide help as needed.
Innovations Early College High School offers open enrollment to students across the state.
Jordan School District
Jordan District is opening three new virtual schools: one elementary, one middle school and one high school, something that hasn’t been done by a Utah school district on this scale before. Called Jordan Virtual Learning Academy, the schools are open to every K-12 student in the state, according to its website.
The district strongly believes the future of education is digital, said Ross Menlove, who has been an administrator there for years and will lead the new elementary, Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School.
“It’d be a mistake to overlook that this online model has had huge benefits for many,” he previously told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Honestly, this is where instruction is heading. The way people learn is changing, and we need to adapt to that.”
The new schools, which will have their own teachers who instruct only online, will “open” in August. Students K-8 will be able to sign up to do their schooling all virtually. Those in high school will have the option to do everything online or just some of their classes, if they choose.
The district anticipates anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 kids will sign up in the inaugural year.
Spencer Campbell, who will be the principal of Kelsey Peak Virtual Middle School, said Jordan Virtual Learning Academy students won’t necessarily miss out on in-person educational and social opportunities.
For instance, science teachers might pick a location one day for an in-person lab activity, or an art teacher might dedicate a space and time for students to work on projects together, he said.
High school students will have the chance to attend dances at their local brick-and-mortar schools, he continued, while field trips are being planned for elementary school students.
“There [are] a lot of new things that we’re going to try,” Campbell said.
Canyons School District
Canyons School District will this school year launch Canyons Online, a remote learning option for K-12 students.
Kindergarten through eighth grade classes will be offered only for Canyons School District students, but any Utah student in grades nine through 12 can enroll, said Jeffrey Haney, director of public communications for the district.
Canyons Online program administrator Michelle Shimmin emphasized that Canyons Online isn’t a COVID-19 response; rather, COVID-19 accelerated what the district was already doing, she said.
For instance, Shimmin said for about 10 years prior to the pandemic, the school district had successful online options for high school students, but there was limited teacher engagement.
Over time, the program evolved to include greater teacher involvement, Shimmin said, which will be reflected in Canyons Online.
The program’s focus is also on giving students more choice “in path, in pace and in place,” she said. “And that is something that a brick and mortar school or a traditional school setting can’t necessarily provide in a way that a student may need.”
However, online students can also opt in to in-person activities at their boundary schools, such as music programs or physical education classes, Haney and Shimmin said.
Shimmin also said grades K-8 in Canyons Online have a capacity of 50 children per grade, but there’s no enrollment limit for grades 9-12. Grades K-8 are currently nearly at capacity, she said.
Granite School District
Ben Horsley, communications director for the Granite School District, said the district will provide “comprehensive content” for students who wish to continue learning online, in two formats: Live classes where students can log in at a certain time for instruction and self-paced classes.
Last year, teachers were required to provide both in-person and distance learning, but this year, the district has teachers dedicated to providing online instruction in both formats, Horsley said.
“We continue to look at all the lessons learned from the pandemic and want to continue to provide a variety of options and resources in the best interests and individualization for our students,” he said.
Horsley said the district anticipates about 3% to 5% of the district’s students, or about 2,000 to 5,000 kids, will choose online learning this school year.
It is difficult to say whether this is a higher percentage of online learners than the district had before the pandemic, he said, because before 2020, the district “very rarely” saw students do all their learning online. “Most students, pre-COVID, were just looking to add flexibility to their schedule or knock out graduation requirements sooner,” he said.
Also, there weren’t any online district options for elementary students prior to the pandemic, he said. Secondary students had access to Granite Connect, which provided supplementary core classes online. That gave some students flexibility with their schedules, Horsley said, but wasn’t comprehensive enough to allow a student to complete classes entirely online.
“Post-COVID, those offerings and that content has expanded dramatically,” Horsley said. Granite Connect, which is open to students outside the district’s boundaries, now encompasses all of the options that the district is providing this fall, including a comprehensive elementary education program, Horsley said.
Davis School District
Prior to the pandemic, Davis Connect Online School enrolled approximately 100 elementary and middle school students each year, the district said. High school students took independent study courses offered by the online school.
But because of growing interest, the district began making plans in 2019 to expand, and Davis Connect enrolled thousands of students as the district’s online option after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The online school is open to all of Utah’s K-12 students, according to its website.
Davis Connect’s options include K-12 live online class offerings with grade level or subject specific teachers; K-8 independent study curriculum; and specific independent study classes for grades 7 to 12.
Students can learn online only or blend virtual and in-person classes, the district said, offering one of the “most flexible and the broadest array of viable schooling options in Utah.”
Regional and statewide options
Some charter schools and other school districts also offer online education, often available to students outside district boundaries. And these two platforms offer a range of specific classes online:
Utah Students Connect is offered by a consortium of districts and enrolls high school students from Cache, Jordan, Murray, Nebo, Park City or Salt Lake City, according to its website. Parents are generally asked to contact their student’s school counselors for more information.
Statewide Online Education Program, which was established by the Utah Legislature in 2011, allows students enrolled in a Utah public, home or private school to earn up to six credit hours in online courses per academic year. (However, students with an early graduation plan may be approved to take additional credits.)
The Statewide Online Education Program offers 45 types of classes, from math, science and languages to art, music and business skills. Cory Kanth, a program specialist, said that although any Utah student in grades 6 through 12 can take classes, they can only earn credit for grades nine through 12. However, starting in 2022, students will be able to earn credits for grades seven and eight, she said.