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Lynchburg Virtual Academy to close at end of school year


Lynchburg City Schools’ Virtual Academy will close at the end of the current school year, LCS officials announced Thursday.

The division first offered the Virtual Academy to students for the 2021-22 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; Superintendent Crystal Edwards said LCS continued the program after many division families found it continued to work well for their students.

The closure will affect 21 positions and about 160 students currently enrolled in the program.

On Wednesday, LCS administration informed Virtual Academy employees the program would be ending at the conclusion of the school year, and the school board called a news conference Thursday to address the closure.

“I do not want to lose a single teacher,” Edwards said, adding the goal is to keep Virtual Academy staff members within the division in other positions. She also said the administration is meeting with families individually next week to talk about student placement options within division schools.

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A completely virtual, tuition-free K-12 program, the Virtual Academy was fully funded by CARES funds, or temporary COVID-19 relief funds.

LCS has been grappling with the upcoming expiration of those CARES funds during recent budget deliberations, also anticipating increases to health insurance and utility costs. Funding for the Virtual Academy’s $1.7 million annual operating cost was included in the school board’s preliminary local funding request of the city of $47.5 million. But in March, the board voted to lower its local funding request to $43.7 million — still $4.3 million over its fiscal year 2024 funding amount from the city. That current request does not include funding to continue the Virtual Academy.

Speaking to the school board’s involvement in the closure decision, board member Randy Trost told reporters, “As to whether or not the school board should have been involved in that process beforehand, we were involved in the process … she [Edwards] is the CEO of this organization and surely is responsible for taking care of her employees and that’s what she did in this matter and we support her in that endeavor.”

Trost continued, “It was a successful program, we’re proud of that program, Dr. Edwards and her staff did a fantastic job implementing it. It was implemented because of the pandemic; the pandemic is over. And unfortunately, we cannot fund the program moving forward.”

Josh Boyd, principal of the Virtual Academy, said Thursday, “I am just thrilled with the students that were a part of our program, the families — we’ve formed a tightknit group of students and families and I just hope that they are able to reintegrate back into their base schools and find what they need for their educational careers.”

Virtual Academy has offered an alternative option for students with disabilities, students who travel frequently for sports or other activities, and homeschoolers, Boyd said. Asked about virtual options for these students after the academy’s closure, he said he’s talked with families about returning to in-person learning at base schools with counseling staff, and the administration is ready to help with the transition process.

“For those who wish to remain virtual, we’ve looked at Virtual Virginia and other options that we might be able to enroll them in, and then also having our part-time enrollment possibility as well for those who may choose to go back to homeschooling or others, they’d be able to stay partly enrolled in our program and take advantage of a lot of the great things we have here in Lynchburg City Schools,” Boyd said.

Under the division’s part-time enrollment policy, homeschooled or private school-enrolled students can participate in extracurricular activities and take up to three high school credit-bearing classes per semester. Virtual Virginia is a tuition-based program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education that offers virtual learning to all grade levels.

Edwards said of Boyd and his staff: “they’ve had this experience now delivering online learning, which remember when COVID first hit, very few people knew how to do that well. Well, I now have a team of people who know how to do that exceptionally well and still make families feel that personal touch. We can’t lose that, right?”

Emma Martin, (434) 385-5556

emartin@newsadvance.com

“It was a successful program, we’re proud of that program, Dr. Edwards and her staff did a fantastic job implementing it. It was implemented because of the pandemic; the pandemic is over. And unfortunately, we cannot fund the program moving forward.”

Randy Trost, Lynchburg City School Board member

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