15 Things to Know Before Enrolling in Virtual Public School
15 Things To Know Before Enrolling in Virtual Public School
Welcome to Part 3 in the blog series about “Home School Students and Virtual Public School Classes”. Here are the other blog posts that make up this series, in case you chose this part by mistake or prefer to skip around for information:
- Part 1: Homeschoolers and Dual Enrollment in Virtual Public Schools: Is it Legal in North Carolina?
- Part 2: 11 Reasons Why NC Homeschool Students are Enrolling Part Time in Virtual Public School
There are many things that homeschoolers should be aware of before deciding whether or not to enroll their students part-time in virtual public school.
Homeschool families without experience in the public school setting may be unfamiliar with information, policies, and rules that apply to them once their student enrolls in virtual public school.
It can certainly feel like you are venturing into uncharted waters!
Homeschool students make up a small percentage of the total number of students enrolled in virtual public school classes. Interfacing with homeschool students is relatively new for public schools. Because of this, many programs do not yet have written information that would help homeschoolers become aware of the public school policies that are important to homeschoolers.
The purpose of this blog post is to highlight some of the things that you should know before deciding whether to enroll your student part-time in virtual public school. Here are fifteen to think about.
1. Homeschools and Public Schools are Different
Well, that seems kind of obvious, right? Public schools are large, structured, hierarchical systems. They have policies, rules, and procedures. Things have to be done a certain way, at a certain time, or in a certain order. There are deadlines and time limits. There are forms. Working through the system may take time.
Homeschooling, in contrast, is extremely flexible, responsive, and open. Change can happen fast. Homeschool families typically set and change their schedules to meet their needs. Even the NCDNPE is extremely responsive to homeschoolers. Most business with the NCDNPE can be conducted quickly and online.
Whether it is initial enrollment, withdrawal from a course, completion of a course, or withdrawal from the public school, there is less flexibility within the public school system. Change often takes more time.
Prior to enrolling, ask about any flexibility that you anticipate your student may need. For example, if you plan to take an extended vacation during the semester your student is enrolled, you will want to ask how that can be accommodated.
2. PowerSchool – the Student Database
Homeschoolers give very little information, if any, to outside sources. We often say that we register our homeschool with the state, but not our students.
Public school students have a student ID number and a record in the state-wide student database. The name of that database is PowerSchool. Parents are given access to PowerSchool.
Having your student's data in a state-wide database might be a concern for some homeschoolers. If so, be sure to ask questions. You might want to know what information is stored, how that information is used, and who has access to it.
One question to ask would be whether military recruiters will be provided with your student's demographic and/or contact information. Another question to ask might be whether colleges will be provided with the same information.
If you do not wish to have this information made available, make sure to ask if there is the ability to opt-out or restrict who has access to that information.
3. Full-Time Student, Partial Schedule
Public school record-keeping systems are not set up for handling students who are enrolled part-time. When you enroll your student, you might notice there is no option to indicate your student is enrolling part-time. You are not being tricked into enrolling your student full time in public school. There simply has never been a need or a way for a student to enroll part-time.
Rather than say a student is enrolled part-time, the student's status is described by the number of classes they are currently enrolled in.
Public schools have students who take a partial schedule of classes, rather than a full schedule. A partial schedule is two or three classes. A full schedule is four or more classes. A homeschool student is enrolled in a partial schedule of classes.
Public schools also have students enrolled who have no plan to graduate from the school. Foreign exchange students are one example. These students are often referred to as visiting students. Homeschool students who do not plan to graduate from the public high school would also be visiting students.
Remember the PowerSchool database? Since these dual enrollment programs are so new, there is no specific code in PowerSchool for a homeschool student who is enrolled part-time in public school. A way to identify these students in PowerSchool was needed.
In PowerSchool, your homeschool student who is enrolled part-time in public school will most likely be coded as a full time, partial schedule, visiting student. This does not change the status of your homeschool in any way. It is simply a way to categorize your student in the database.
Hopefully, as these programs grow and become more popular, a code will be developed to accurately reflect a homeschool student enrolled part-time.
4. The School District Office Has the Answers
How do you find out if your homeschool student can enroll in a virtual school program? Most of the time, you can find the information on the district website. If you don’t see it right away, try a search for the name of your district and the word eLearning or homeschool. If you don’t find any information, call the school district office.
You may have many questions about part-time enrollment in a virtual public school program. It would be great if there was a handbook that could tell us all about how this works.
These programs are new. They are constantly evolving. Each district determines whether they will have this kind of program and what is available in their program.
That makes it hard to produce a handbook and keep it up to date. Larger programs that have been around for a while may have more information for parents and it may be easier to find.
Don’t let the lack of online information stop you. If you are interested in the program, call your local school district and ask questions!
5. There is a Program Home Base
The virtual learning programs are usually managed out of one location within the school district. You will likely pick up books or materials here. This may be where you go for a pre-enrollment interview. This may also be where tutors and advisors will be located. Your student may have to attend classes for several days the home base to make sure everything will go smoothly.
Before you enroll your student, make sure you know where the program home base is. Make sure you know how often your student is expected to visit the home base and how long the student must be there.
Public school safety is on everyone's mind these days. If your student will be attending classes at the home base, make sure you pay attention to safety and security policies and features. Ask questions and be aware.
6. Each Program may be Different!
There is no state-wide standard for homeschool students enrolling in virtual public school classes. Each school district has the freedom to develop their own program. While districts share information and best practices with each other, there are still many differences. Here are examples of some of the differences:
- Where the student submits their application for the program.
- The application process.
- The virtual course vendor. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools use NCVPS, Edgenuity, and NC School of Science and Mathematics. Cabarrus County Schools use Apex Learning Curriculum. Iredell-Statesville Schools use NCVPS and ISS Virtual.
- Some districts may allow enrolled homeschool students to play sports and/or participate in extracurricular activities.
- Some districts may provide computer equipment for students.
- Some districts may allow out of district enrollment.
- Some districts may require and evaluate a homeschool transcript as part of the application process.
- Require attendance on-campus classes for a period of time.
- Provide the option to graduate from public school, if desired
These are only a few of the ways that programs may differ between school districts. Make sure that you understand the features and requirements specific to your school district. Do not be shy about asking questions!
7. There is an Application Process
When you enroll your student in public school, you will fill out an application. The application is more involved than filing a Notice of Intent to Homeschool. It may take time to work through the application process, so you should begin early.
There are no fees to enroll in public school. Parents must provide documents such as a student birth certificate, proof of residency, and immunization (or exemption) records. Some districts require a copy of the current homeschool transcript.
Where you submit your application may be different for each district.
8. Acceptance in the Virtual School Program is NOT Guaranteed
The public school system is required to accept all students for enrollment. However, the virtual school program is a special program within the public school system.
Being accepted into a virtual school program is not guaranteed. The admission process is designed to help make sure that the student will be successful in the program.
Students may have to complete an interest form, a student profile, or even a short paragraph about why they want to enroll in the virtual program. Some school districts require an in-person interview.
These additional steps are required of all students in the district that want to enroll in the virtual program, not just homeschool students. This information is used to decide if the student is likely to be successful in the program.
Since your student only wants to enroll in the virtual program, this step may be completed first before enrolling in public school or may be completed after enrolling in public school. This may be different in different districts.
9. Computer Equipment and Internet Access ARE Required
Your student will need a computer and internet access. Each district program spells out the requirements very clearly. If you do not have what is listed, speak to the program administrator to find out if what you have will work. Some schools may be able to loan equipment.
If your student shares a computer with you or with other students in your home, you may need to schedule computer time.
10. Previous Positive Student Experience with Online Courses is a Plus
Everyone wants your student to succeed! Think about the experience your student has had with online courses. Was it a struggle to get your student to sit down and do their course-work? Did your student take the initiative to get the course-work done? You should think about whether a virtual program will be a good fit for your student.
11. Course Drop Procedures
Homeschool families often enroll their students in online courses. We have a lot of flexibility in deciding what our students do with those courses. If our student is falling behind, we may extend the deadlines. If the course is not a good fit for the student, the course can be dropped. Usually, there isn’t a problem when a homeschool student drops a course, except we may lose the money we paid for the course.
Remember #1 on this list? Public schools have policies and procedures that have to be followed!
When your student is enrolled in a virtual public school course, they can not just stop working on the course. The course must be officially dropped. There is usually a deadline to drop or change courses.
A student that stops working on the course without dropping, will receive a failing grade. That grade will appear on the official high school transcript.
If your student needs to drop a course, talk to the program administrator. It is a good idea to understand how this works before you enroll your student.
12. Student Progress is Required and Help is Available
Your student’s progress toward course completion and how well they are doing in the course are tracked by the program administrator. This information is used to document attendance and make sure your student is not falling behind.
If your student is struggling with a course, in-person tutoring and assistance are available. It is always best to reach out to the program administrator for help at the first sign your student is having difficulty rather than waiting.
If your student is falling behind, the program administrator will probably contact you to bring your student in for tutoring or assistance. No one wants to see a student fail a course!
13. Public School Transcript
When your student completes the virtual public school course, their grade will be entered in the PowerSchool database. Your student will have a public school transcript.
This transcript is a permanent record.
Students who apply to college must submit all transcripts from any schools they have attended. Though you may place the course name and grade on your homeschool transcript, you will likely need to have the public school submit a copy of the transcript to the college as a part of the application process.
This is an important thing to remember. Homeschool administrators have the freedom to include (or not!) coursework that the student completes in their homeschool. They are under no obligation to report all courses taken and grades earned. If your student completes a virtual public school course, the grade for that course will be listed on the student's public school transcript. Just to emphasize this point:
Any grade received on a virtual public school course is reflected on the student's official public school transcript.
14. Continued Enrollment
Homeschoolers are used to being able to enroll their student in a variety of in-person and online classes. We can change our course schedule and plan without letting anyone know. If our student takes a class through the XYZ Academy this semester, we are under no obligation to take a course with through the XYZ Academy for the following semester.
It is the exact opposite when your student is enrolled in the virtual public school program.
Public schools expect enrolled students to return and take classes every semester unless you withdraw your student!
If your student will not register for classes for the following semester, you must officially withdraw your student from the public school system.
If your student wishes to return for enrollment at a later time, you may have to go through the entire enrollment process again. Some districts are looking for ways to streamline the re-application process.
If your student does not enroll in classes for a semester and you did NOT withdraw your student, your student may be classified in PowerSchool as a high school dropout.
That notation would appear on the student’s official high school transcript from the public school system.
The entry in PowerSchool can be corrected, but you will have to work through the public school where your student was enrolled. The public school may have policies about how this is handled.
Be diligent about withdrawing from the public school if your student will not register for classes the following semester. This includes if your student is graduating from your homeschool!
15. NCDNPE May Be Able To Help
If you are having difficulty with a virtual public school program, your first contact should be to the program’s administrator. If you are not able to resolve the problem, contact the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education. Their office may be able to offer guidance or assistance.
The NCDNPE has no authority over public schools, but they may be able to help homeschoolers navigate the complex public school system and facilitate the resolution of problems.
Some of the public school districts sought input and feedback from the NCDNPE as they developed these programs. If you let the NCDNPE know about problems, they will have a better understanding of what the issues are. That knowledge can be provided to school districts when they seek the input of the NCDNPE in the future.
I hope that this post has given you food for thought. Although this is a good list, it is not comprehensive. My goal is to make sure that parents and students are aware of at least some of the issues they may encounter BEFORE they enroll their students in virtual public school programs. Understanding these issues, and being aware of the need to ask questions, will hopefully help parents and students choose what is best for them!
What do you think? Are there other things that should be included on this list? Let me know your thoughts by email!