Some area families excited for virtual school option for stability, safety next year

LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wis. (WKBT)– For most,  school is out for the summer but families are already looking ahead to next year. With the coronavirus suddenly changing plans for in-school learning, some would rather stick with what they know–virtual school.

When Amy Hatlevig’s oldest son was in the 6th grade, they decided to enroll him in virtual school.

“And it was wonderful. We had a great experience with it,” said Hatlevig.

Now about 10 years later, under vastly different circumstances, she and her husband decided to enroll their other two students into a virtual option for next year. In part, they wanted them to be safe. But it was also about planning ahead.

“We didn’t know what the fall was going to look like. And we want to give them as consistent schedule as possible,” Hatlevig sais.

Area school officials are wondering if there are other families like Hatlevig’s. That’s why they sent out a survey earlier this week to test the waters. It’s part of a wider approach to come up with several plans.

“Our school district is flexibly approaching our planning and preparation for next year,” said Fayme Evenson, director of Instructional services and technology for the School District of Onalaska.

The School District of Onalaska is teaming up with the districts in La Crosse, Holmen and West Salem to provide a completely virtual experience option for k-12 students. The Coulee Region Virtual Academy (CRVA) would include students who receive additional help. This group helps ensure they can meet the need in the communities they serve.

“We might have two seniors that want to do it, and between La Crosse, West Salem and Holmen, they might have 100. So we want to be able to offer this in a consortium format so that we don’t have to decide, ‘Well, it’s only two students so we can’t run this class,'” Evenson said.

Where the district served 100% of students in a distance learning academy this spring, this would be different in a few ways.

“Our virtual academy will be built for a much smaller percentage of our students,” Evenson said.

Even though classes are online, students get the social benefits.

“They’ll still have access to the programs and services for their resident school district- extracurriculars and co-curriculars and all that,” Evenson said.

There may be some who are leary, especially after the rush to get students home earlier this year.

“We had three days to plan,” Evenson said.

“I’ve tried to tell them it’s not going to be the same thing as what we experienced in the Spring,” Hatlevig said.

If it’s like what Hatlevig’s other son experienced before, it’s almost like you’re sitting in a classroom.

“They have a little headset on with a microphone, they can talk to their teacher, they hit a button to raise their hand, you can talk to other classmates,” Hatlevig said.

Her sons were signed up for a virtual experience through the Appleton School District. But now that this could be an option closer to home, she said she would bring them back to the La Crosse School District.

While it would work out well for them, she’s realistic.

“Just because the virtual option is great for us, doesn’t mean it’s the best for the neighbor,” Hatlevig said.

Since sending out a survey Tuesday to gauge interest, the Onalaska School District said more than 50 families are interested in the program. That’s about 100 students from just that district so far. Once they know more, the districts will start looking at the staffing needs for the program.