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New Law Will Expand Virtual Schools in Massachusetts

Virtual Schools primarily teach students in online classrooms. And while many traditional schools use online teaching materials to broaden instruction, a virtual school usually operates for students unable to attend a regular school.

Executive Office of Education Secretary Paul Reville says the new law is not an attempt to create a parallel schooling system in Massachusetts, but will allow students in special circumstances to obtain an education.

The law will allow the creation of no more than 10 online schools in the Commonwealth. The state will accept proposals from a single school district, two or more school districts, an education collaborative, an institution of higher education, a non-profit entity, two or more certified teachers, or parents. Private and parochial schools and for-profit entities are not eligible to apply.

Senate Chair of the Joint Committee of Education Sonia Chang-Diaz said that by opening the program up to a variety of education systems, it may be interesting to see where schools would like to take the program.

The new law will give preference to virtual schools that serve students with special needs.

Currently, only one virtual school operates in the state. The Massachusetts Virtual Academy at  Greenfield was created by innovation school guidelines of 2010. Roughly 475 from across the state attend the pilot school.

Dr. Susan Hollins is superintendent of Greenfield Public Schools. She says that the there are some misconceptions that critics have about online learning.

Dr. Hollins said that the student will interact with teachers in the virtual classroom, and that the teachers also stay in close communication with parents, who act as a home supervisor.

Hollins said that as the Virtual Academy is now in its 3rd year, they’re still learning needs of students in special circumstances.

From 2013 to 1016, up to three virtual schools may be approved by the state board of education. Another three will be selected for 2016-2019, and up to four more for the 2019-2020 school year.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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