For the past two years, Florida educational policy was interpreted to state that schools of choice were granted the liberty to set limits on the amount of online classes a student may take. Until recently, Pine View regulation restricted student access to online classes, only allowing virtual courses necessary in lieu of a scheduling conflict or if the course was not offered on campus. In recent discussions between the Sarasota County School District and Florida K-12 Public School Chancellor Hershel Lyons, the policy provision was clarified and determined to have been misinterpreted. Pine View now follows the same policy as other schools in the state, no longer having the ability to restrict the virtual classes a student wishes to enroll in. “It’s not that anything legislatively changed, it’s that the interpretation of the language was clarified,” grades 10 through 12 Assistant Principal Jennifer Nzeza said.
Many school officials feel the on-campus change in policy will pose a threat to the educational quality of students who decide to take additional online classes. Principal Dr. Stephen Covert said, “My main concern is making sure that students not only get the courses they need to graduate, but in addition to that, that they’re at the appropriate level of rigor and are fully prepared for what comes next.” Pine View coursework is organized to be sequential each year, which is why the importance of high school students’ four year plan is emphasized. According to several school administrators, once a class is taken online without the same guaranteed rigor or difficulty, a student may struggle to succeed in the next level of a course if taken on campus. Nzeza said, “There is nothing that can replicate sitting in a classroom, learning and having a fluid conversation.”
Additionally the decision to take multiple online classes in replacement for a brick and mortar experience may ultimately affect college admission outcomes. According to College Resource Counselor Lance Bergman, the rigor of a student’s schedule is one of the primary factors taken into account when college admissions evaluate applications. Colleges are aware of the level of coursework offered at a school and expect applicants to have taken advantage of the rigorous coursework offered. When a student submits their high school transcript, courses taken online are clearly marked; those taken virtually are understood to not be as difficult or extensive as an on-campus class. “Colleges are also aware that students take online courses to inflate grade point average. When they look at that grade point average, they’ll be looking at it through the lens of not only how many AP courses a kid took or how many Dual Enrollment courses, but also of how many of those AP and Dual Enrollment courses are in an online setting,” Bergman said. “It won’t be possible to say if you take so many online courses you’re jeopardizing your [college admissions] chances, because we don’t know what actually goes on in those admissions conversations. But we do know that colleges look at the rigor, probably as a primary factor.”
As of now, there is no clarification on the maximum number of classes a student may take online within a school year. Nzeza stressed the school is in continued communication with the Florida Department of Education in order to specify details. Because high school administration cards have already been turned in, students who are interested in altering next school year’s schedule will need to meet with their grade level counselor in order to evaluate the circumstances and determine the best options, taking into account a student’s aimed career path. Students will have the choice of either taking an online class with Sarasota Virtual Academy (SVA) or Florida Virtual School (FLVS). “My recommendation is that students register for SVA, because SVA courses are taught by Sarasota County teachers,” Covert said. “FLVS dollars leave Sarasota County. With SVA those funds stay in Sarasota County.”
As the number of students taking an online class during the school day increases— an option that still fulfills the six required classes to be taken on campus —the number of available seats in the media center to take a virtual school course may become an issue. With less than 15 slots available to students per period, the increase in online course interest may require an additional classroom space to open up. This is a difficult option when there are already full-time teachers who have no definite classrooms of their own.
In regards to students’ decisions when planning classes, Covert said, “It’s not about getting by. It’s not about going the easy way or getting around a tough teacher… It’s about going the extra degree. I hope this is the beginning of a conversation about what we really value about gifted education and how we really meet [our school’s] mission statement.”