Fort Bend ISD will offer a limited-enrollment virtual learning program for students not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccine as new cases of the virus continue to surge in the county, the district announced in a press release Aug. 9.

Students in pre-K through sixth grade, who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, will be able to apply for the virtual learning program from Sept. 9-13. Families will be notified of acceptance Aug. 16 prior to the launch of the virtual learning program Aug. 30. Acceptance will be based on the availability of teachers at each grade level, the release said.

Teachers will provide instruction for the virtual learning program during open, nonacademic times in their schedule or if they become available as demand shifts from in-person to remote instruction. Concurrent learning—or the practice of a teacher teaching students in person and online at the same time—will not occur.

The district estimates the virtual learning program will cost $3.7 million in staffing and operational expenses. Additionally, FBISD will lose an estimated $6.7 million in state funding for the students learning online.

FBISD will only offer core classes through the virtual learning program, and students participating in virtual learning will not be able to attend extracurricular activities at their home campus, according to the release.

Students receiving gifted and talented and English-learning services may have modified programming or class sizes through virtual learning. However, for students receiving special education services, an Admission, Review or Dismissal committee or Section 504 meeting must happen to determine virtual learning is appropriate.

Students enrolled in the virtual learning program will remain online for the entirety of the fall semester. The district will assess the need for the virtual option before the spring semester, it said in the release.

The first day of in-person classes in FBISD is Aug. 11. Students who are kept home prior to being notified of their admission into the virtual learning program will be withdrawn if they are not accepted into the virtual learning program or do not attend in-person instruction by Aug. 19.

In an Aug. 5 message to the community, district officials said a virtual learning option was not financially feasible for the 2021-22 school year. However, the district said it had begun working on a limited-enrollment virtual school in an Aug. 8 social media post.

FBISD’s decision to offer virtual learning comes after a group of parents circulated petitions asking the district to provide such an option for students who are too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Virtual learning programs were not funded by the Texas Legislature, shifting the financial burden for any such option to the district.