Richardson ISD families registered 1,040 students in the district's temporary, virtual classroom option offered to children too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to district staff.

The program is for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and will run from Aug. 23-Oct. 15. The deadline for parents to register was Aug. 17, the same day RISD began in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year.

Students who take part in the virtual option will work with RISD teachers on district curriculum both synchronously and asynchronously, according to the RISD website.

“For many students, the largest 2021-22 challenge will be continuing to learn during a pandemic where in-person school may be interrupted by pandemic-related absences or a need or choice to shift to a virtual learning model,” RISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone said in an email. “For most students, in-person learning is clearly the most effective instructional delivery model, and we want to encourage that. Having said that, some parents of students who cannot yet become vaccinated have real and legitimate concerns about returning to in-person learning, so the challenge for those students may look different than those who are learning in person.”

Prior to the end of the 2020-21 school year, RISD was developing a permanent virtual academy option for the fall, which had an anticipated enrollment of 500-750 students. However, the regular session of the Texas Legislature ended May 31 without final approval of a bill that would have expanded online learning and provided funding for full-time virtual students. Therefore, RISD will not receive average daily attendance funding from the state for students who take part in the virtual option.

As part of an Aug. 9 video message, Stone said the district put together the temporary virtual option after hearing from parents of elementary-aged children who felt there was not a safe option for educating children.

The program is only slated to be available for the first nine weeks of the school year, but the district website states it could be extended based on vaccine availability for children under age 12. Once a vaccine is made widely available for elementary-aged children, the district will no longer offer the virtual option, and students will transition back to their home elementary schools for in-person instruction, according the website.

Parents of students in virtual school are expected to serve as their child’s “at-home learning coach” and to play an active part in supporting their learning, according to the website. Parents will also be expected to monitor their student's daily schedules for required online meetings and the completion of assignments by due date.

Stone said working with their children's teachers is the most important thing parents can do to support learning this school year.

“Regardless of political or personal beliefs about the pandemic and health protocols, the child will benefit when the school, teacher and parent are working together to support the child’s academic success,” Stone said via email. “Last year was incredibly difficult for most teachers, and they can be the most effective in their work when parents are engaged and committed to their child’s learning.”

Plano ISD had 2,396 students register for its temporary, parent-led virtual option for students in pre-K through sixth grade. PISD’s virtual option is slated to last through Sept. 3.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the number of students who enrolled in Richardson ISD's virtual classroom option.