More than 10% of students at the Vincennes Community School Corp. will not be returning to the classroom.

Officials with the VCSC last week announced that they would give parents and guardians a choice — return to traditional in-person instruction or enroll in its new Washington Learning Academy, an alternative school.

The deadline to choose was Monday, and superintendent Greg Parsley said 300 of the corporation’s 2,700 students — or an estimated 11% — are opting for virtual instruction come Aug. 6.

“At least of right now,” Parsley said on Wednesday afternoon. “It seems every day we have a parent change their mind. After principals have conversations with them, more of them are trickling back to in-person instruction.

“Even still, that number is higher than we were anticipating.”

VCSC officials announced the option to choose on July 22, giving parents and guardians about a week to talk to their children and decide.

The very next day, on July 23, Gov. Eric. Holcomb announced a statewide mask mandate, which went into effect on Monday.

The mandate will require students to wear masks when in the classroom.

“And that changed some things for some folks,” Parsley said. “We saw an uptick (in virtual registration) after that.”

The VCSC’s re-entry plan largely mimics a traffic light — with allowances for green, yellow or red stages, depending on the severity of COVID-19 locally.

So far, Knox County has had 108 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Green indicates a relatively normal environment. Yellow would see the implementation of additional precautions, perhaps even a hybrid of in-person and e-learning, and red would see a move back to e-learning entirely.

Parsley has said they’ve left flexibility in terms of moving between the stages, and he will rely heavily on communication with county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart in making those decisions.

Even still, Parsley said VCSC officials felt they should offer parents a choice.

For those parents or guardians who do choose virtual learning, they will have to commit to it for one full semester at Lincoln High School and Clark Middle School or for a full nine-weeks at the elementary level.

Parents will then be allowed to re-evaluate.

Choosing the virtual option through the Washington Learning Academy does prohibit students from participating in any extra-curricular activities.

The virtual learning program will be self-guided and self-paced.

And virtual learning, Parsley said, is not e-learning. When schools closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak in March, teachers led their students through daily digital activities, posted videos and hosted Zoom classrooms.

Being enrolled in Washington Learning Academy is something entirely different, Parley said.

“Virtual learning is not e-learning. It’s not in-person instruction, and it’s not a substitute for either,” Parsley said. “But I also understand that we have (students) who maybe have underlying health issues or maybe live with an elderly grandparent.

“So we’ll do whatever we can to support those decisions. But I do worry about the long-term negative effects of virtual learning, even for nine weeks or a semester.”

The VCSC last year took back possession of the former Washington Elementary School at 2134 Washington Ave. after selling it to a local church amid school funding cuts in 2008.

The newly-christened Washington Learning Academy, an alternative learning site, offers students at all grade levels a mix of traditional and virtual curriculum as well as mentorship and mental health counseling. Previously, only Lincoln High School had an on-site alternative school, Alice Academy.

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