When Ouachita Parish Schools begins its fall semester, the school system plans to offer a virtual learning program as an option for parents who are uncomfortable with their children returning to the classroom amid an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The Ouachita Parish School Board discussed a variety of options available for students during its regular meeting last week.

Ouachita Parish Virtual Instructional Program, or VIP, is an online learning program taught by parish school stystem teachers.

“That is referring to this 100 percent online option that is out there that will be staffed and taught by teachers from Ouachita Parish,” Superintendent Don Coker said. “It will be virtual, it will be online and it will be everyday because attendance will be checked.”

Coker explained the program would provide students with the same teacher each day and the teachers would be reporting back to the students’ original school.

Curtis Pate, director of elementary schools, curriculum, testing and accountability, explained the goal for the VIP would be to enroll students in the program for the entire school year.

“Our goal is that they enroll in this for the year,” Pate said.

Pate told School Board members that students’ progress would be monitored to ensure the program was the best option for the student.

“If we see that it’s not in the best interest of the child for that child to stay in the virtual program, then the parent can request a meeting with the program coordinator of the director and we will look at putting that child back into a school setting,” Pate said.

Pate defended the virtual program as one closely resembling learning in a classroom.

“Our goal is to keep [students] in our school system and this is one way to do that,” Pate said. “So if they pass and do their assignments just like the kids at that brick and mortar school, then they will promote up to the next grade.”

Pate told the School Board the virtual program would require elementary students to have a learning coach for the student to help insure assignments are being done.

VIP would begin on Aug. 12. Registration for VIP would be from July 15 through July 24.

“When we know how many students we have, then we know how many teachers we need to have to staff it,” Coker said.

Coker explained that teachers who have high risks of health issues would be considered for teaching in the online program.

Teachers might be asked to teach students from different schools, according to Coker.

Parents who enroll their children in VIP would be required to participate in a mandatory parent orientation to educate parents and students about the technology used in the program, according to Coker.

Coker explained students participating in the online program could be given a Chromebook device if the technology was needed, according to Coker.

“It would be up to the parents to make sure they have the (internet) connectivity to be able to do it,” Coker said. “Right now for this school, they would have to have connectivity. If they did not have the device, then we would certainly try to furnish them with a device.”

Coker explained to the School Board that students who are enrolled in VIP would be allowed to participate in sports, theatre, band and other activities but the parents would be responsible for transportation to them.

The School Board unanimously approved the virtual program.

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