Virtual school, home school or traditional school: What will you choose for your kids?

Records show some districts see increase in parents unenrolling kids

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Saturday will mark two months since the deadly high school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Seventeen people died, and dozens more were injured in the Valentine's Day massacre. 

Since then, many parents and students have voiced their opinions on what could be done to make schools safer, but will the violence change how parents choose to educate their children?

According to Orange County Public Schools April 2018 enrollment summary, 209,477 students are currently enrolled in the district, the fourth largest in the state.

But records from both the district and Florida Virtual School show nearly 20,000 Orange County kids are schooled at home in some form.

So will more parents and students turn away from traditional school after Parkland? That is yet to be seen, but News 6 did talk with one Orange County mom who recently enrolled her 17-year-old daughter in full-time virtual school.

"There's too much drama in schools, and high schools especially," said Staci Oliver, who lives in Ocoee.

She says at one time, she had both her children enrolled in the Orange County public school system, but now she says it's just safer to teach them at home.

Oliver also said it was her daughter's choice to do virtual full time.

"My daughter isn't a social butterfly; she wants to do her thing and that's it," Oliver said.

Oliver said that even though she would like to have her 12-year-old son, Ty, do the same for safety's sake, she doesn't think he could handle virtual school's discipline.

"It's a different kind of realm because you're responsible for every little detail, compared to being in school; being told what to do," Oliver said. 

So for now, her son continues to attend public school, although she's torn with her decision, especially after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"Even though they are supposed to be in a safe place, they're not in a safe place because no matter what we do to protect them, nothing is 100 percent foolproof," Oliver said.

News 6 contacted all 10 Central Florida public school districts to see if they saw an uptick of parents unenrolling their kids after the Feb. 14 school shooting. Marion County Schools had 128 students enroll in virtual courses after Parkland, and said that is significantly higher than usual.

Orange County records show the number that withdrew was actually lower than it was last school year. And according to the Polk County Schools director of Virtual and Home Education, the district has seen an increase in calls from parents inquiring about alternatives to regular school due to the shooting incident in Parkland.

"It’s not fair that they just can't go to school, be kids, learn come home and be done with it," Oliver said. "They have to see the bad side of society." 

News 6 reached out to Florida Virtual School, which was founded in 1997 as the first statewide Internet-based public high school in the country. Its website states FLVS is part of the Florida public education system and services students in all 67 Florida districts. Students may take courses with FLVS Flex to supplement current studies or as part of a home education program.

For the 2016-17 school year, FLVS served more than 206,000 Florida students through FLVS Flex and FLVS Full Time.  

This is how those numbers break down for each Central Florida county.

County  -   Florida Virtual School Students
Orange - 14,179
Seminole - 3,968
Osceola - 3,548
Lake - 4,484
Sumter - 345
Marion - 2,354
Volusia - 4,664
Brevard - 7,336
Flagler - 962 
Polk - 7,288

According to an FLVS spokesperson, it is a fully accredited, statewide public school district with a 20-year history of successfully educating students.  

"We are an award-winning, international leader in online learning, serving Kindergarten-Grade 12 Florida students. We offer more than 150 courses free to Florida students including Advanced Placement, honors, world languages, electives, career and college prep, and core subjects," Tania Clow, a manager with FLVS, stated. 

She said students take FLVS to make up or retake a credit, accelerate to graduate on time or to get ahead. They may take a course not offered at their traditional school, such as an Advanced Placement course or a Career & Technical Education course. Students may need an NCAA-approved course, or they may take an FLVS course to balance extracurricular activities. The student may also prefer to learn online.

Clow points out students include public, private and home-schooled students; medically homebound students; student athletes and performers; working students; students from military families; and students who have been bullied. Through a variety of personalized instructional programs taught by certified teachers, FLVS students are able to create an educational plan that fits their unique needs. 

You can find additional data on FLVS, by clicking here

News 6 contacted all 10 county public school districts in Central Florida to find out how many students are enrolled in virtual or home education programs through the district. 

Here are the responses, as written:

Brevard County Public Schools: There are no designated codes to specify the reason(s) for departure(s), with that being stated, we cannot speak to the reasons for departures.  

o       85 students withdrew from schools and went to home education between the dates of 2/14/18 and           3/7/18. (17-18 school year)
o       104 students withdrew from schools and went to home education between the dates of 2/14/17               and 3/7/17. (16-17 school year)
o       Students enrolling in Brevard Virtual full time:
o       17-18 school year:
o       146 students enrolled on 8/10/17
o       22 students enrolled on 1/8/18
o       16-17 school year:
o       164 students enrolled on 8/10/16
o       36 students enrolled on 1/9/17

Flagler County Public Schools has 2 "virtual" programs. Our iFlagler school has not seen an increase. This is run by the district. Since 2/14, we've had 20 students withdraw to homeschool via Florida Virtual Schools. On average, we have 3-5 a week.

Lake County Public Schools 108 students enrolled full time in our K-5 virtual program.
Another 90 enrolled full-time in our Grade 6-12 program for a total of 198 full-time students in Lake County Virtual School. 

We did not see an increase in full-time enrollment after Feb. 14, because we were not enrolling students at that time. Our next open enrollment period is scheduled for this summer.

Marion County Public Schools has approximately 2,263 students enrolled in our K-12 online programs.  
 At the end of February, an additional 128 students enroll in our virtual courses.  This is significantly higher than usual.  

Orange County Public Schools
The virtual school enrollment numbers may include students who are dual enrolled. There is no record responsive to the number of students who withdrew from our schools to enroll into virtual school because a parent or legal guardian does not have to disclose where they will be enrolling their child except for home education. 

Student Enrollment Summary (2016-2017 school year)

                                                10/3/2016       1/3/2017     2/1/2017     2/15/2017
K12 Virtual Secondary                    14               12               13               13
OCVS K-12 Virtual Elementary       57               50               53               51
Orange County Virtual                    185             229             238             241
Home Education                             4551          4816          4975          5023

Withdraw to Home Education:
School year 2017-2018
2/14/2017 - 3/08/2017: 144 students

School year 2016-2017
2/14/2018 - 3/8/2018: 176 students

Osceola County Public Schools
Osceola Virtual School currently has 143 full-time and 3,362 part-time students.   After February 14th, we had an increase of about 50 students in full time.  For blended, they are coming in every day.  So far, it is 3,362 blended students.

Polk County Public Schools
According to Mr. Deron Williams, director of Polk Virtual/Home Education:
"We have had an increase of calls from parents inquiring about alternatives to regular school due to the shooting incident in Parkland."
Attached is a graphic showing the patterns in Home Education Program enrollment in Polk County during the past few months.
Roughly 3,800 students in Polk County attend school at home, according to data from our Home Education Program (https://goo.gl/xJKi59).

Sumter Public Schools 377 Students enrolled in Virtual School, none due to the incident on 2/14 in Parkland, Florida. We are not allowed to ask why they are going to Home Ed.

Seminole County Public Schools:
The total number of students in Seminole County registered in a home education program is 1,905. Full time enrollment in Virtual is Elementary 8 and Secondary 70.

There have been no new full time students enrolled into virtual school since the shooting in Parkland.

Volusia County Public Schools:
Virtual education is bound by enrollment periods and does not allow for enrollment outside of those established times.  We can provide the number of home education enrollments; however, it should be noted that students enroll in home education for a variety of reasons throughout the year and those reasons are not captured. For comparison purposes, we included two additional date ranges for entries into home education.

Number of Students Entering Home Education by Date Range
Date Range Assessed Number of Days in Term       Number of Entries
09/05/2017 - 09/15/2017       9 days                                    56 entries
01/26/2018 - 01/26/2018       9 days                                    64 entries
02/15/2018 - 02/28/2018       9 days                                    34 entries
 

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