Iowa City School District set to review requests for online school enrollment


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Nicole Cox never planned on giving her young children a traditional school experience.

"I knew from the beginning that I was not going to put my kids in a public education," the Iowa City mother said. "I feel that it doesn't provide the best education possible."

Two Iowa school districts opted to host the two online-only schools earlier this year, called Iowa Virtual Academy and Iowa Connections Academy. Both schools are funded by Iowa tax dollars, and all Iowa K-12 students are able to enroll in them.

Tonight, the Iowa City School District will review the applications of 10 students who have requested to enroll in those online schools for the 2012-13 school year.

Cox — the parent of third-grader David Rains and kindergartener Rowan Rains — hopes to enroll her children in the Iowa Virtual Academy.

"I like the curriculum that it offers," she said. "I've known about it before, but it has never before been offered for free in Iowa."

But School Board member Sally Hoelscher said she is wary of online-only schooling.

"Certainly, there are some types of virtual education that are useful," she said. "But 100 percent online education concerns me, particularly at the younger grades."

Hoelscher said there is also concern over the district having to supply services to students not attending the district's schools.

Allison Bazin, director of media relations for Iowa Connections Academy, said there are many misconceptions about virtual education.

"When people think of virtual schools, there is this perception of [students] sitting in front of a computer with no interaction," she said. "Connection schools are real communities. At virtual schools, the computer is just a tool for learning."

And it's a real school experience, she said, with teachers, a high-quality curriculum, clubs, and activities.

"Virtual education is a very appealing and interesting option for all types of students," Bazin said noting the flexibility it brings is important.

The type of student varies by need, ranging from athletes to the medically fragile to rural students, she said.

Iowa City residents Maria Valentine and her husband have applied to put their 8-year-old son, Josiah, into the Iowa Connections Academy.

"[The public-school system] was not a good a fit for our son," she said. "We wanted the best education for him, and we felt that because of the administrative decision that was made, [virtual education] was the best choice."

The Valentines had previous experience with the Wisconsin version of the program for the their three older daughters now attending Iowa City's public schools.

"It depends on what your child's needs are," Valentine said. "Your child can excel wherever they are. If other parents want to make that decision for their children, they should have the option to do so."

Hoelscher argued that online relationships are still not the same as physical relationships.

"I think it would be in the best interest of our district to keep people from transferring out of our districts," she said. "There are other options — private schools, homeschooling — for those parents, which don't have the disadvantages that I see with 100 percent online education."

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