Superintendent Don Coker.JPG

The Ouachita Parish School Board acted this week to tamp down on abuses of its online learning program after marking missed benchmarks in virtual students’ academic progress this school year.

During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the School Board accepted a host of changes to the school system’s Virtual Instructional Program (VIP) that would take effect before the 2021-2022 school year begins this fall.

The long list of changes included more participation from parents or guardians, prohibitions against participation in athletics or extracurricular activities, a strict attendance policy and more.

“It sounds more strenuous and we did that for a reason,” said Ouachita Parish Schools Superintendent Don Coker. “We think our students will be much better served in a face-to-face setting where we can monitor their progress.”

The School board launched VIP last August, months after the COVID-19 pandemic broke and led to the shutdown of schools.

Middle school and high school students enrolled in VIP cannot expect to participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities, according to Coker.

“We allowed that this year and found that was not ideal,” Coker said.

Many of the K-12 students enrolled in VIP this year struggled academically, according to Coker.

“I won’t say all of them have struggled, but many of them have struggled with the measures it takes to be successful in online learning, especially at the elementary level,” Coker said.

“These struggles have created more learning gaps, which is concerning for us,” Coker added.

Other criteria for enrolling in VIP for the upcoming school year include having been a student at Ouachita Parish Schools last year, attending standardized testing on campus, maintaining an 85-percent attendance rate, prohibiting students from coaching other students in VIP, and more.

Students also must have a room conducive to learning and leave their cameras on and remain visible during the entire class period.

“They’re going to have to be on and we’re going to have to see them,” Coker said.

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