The program is different from last year’s virtual learning program in that it is limited to certain grades, and only students eligible under Senate Bill 15 may utilize the program, Chief Academic Officer Amy Schindewolf said. SB 15, which was signed Sept. 9, allows school districts to receive state funding for students who attend a virtual learning program at any point during the 2021-22 academic year, according to previous Community Impact Newspaper reporting.
Zamora said the district planned to offer the program before the district knew it would be receiving state funding.
“We offered this opportunity before knowing whether there would be funding because we felt there was a portion, even if it was a small portion, of family members who wanted this,” Zamora said.
In order for a student to be eligible for the remote learning program under SB 15, if the student received remote instruction for the majority of the 2020-21 academic year, he or she must have achieved satisfactory achievement or higher on each State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams, have a number of unexcused absences that is 10% or fewer of the number of instructional days in the district, and earned a C or higher in foundation courses, according to the Texas Education Agency. Zamora said 195 students are currently bound to the program through December, unless the district decides to dissolve it.
All the teachers for the program are virtual-specific instructors and not any current in-person staff, Zamora said. A portion of the teachers are instructors from TeleTeachers, which offers virtual instructors for schools, while others are associate teachers or previously retired instructors, Zamora said.
At the meeting, the board also approved a $221,482 contract with TeleTeachers. The board approved a $147,000 contract with Imagine Learning as well, an online math learning program. Both contracts will be paid for using federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds the district was awarded.
TISD received almost $12.2 million total in ESSER funding, according to previous Community Impact Newspaper reporting.
While the virtual program is intended for a small number of students, Zamora said the district still has the ability to go fully virtual if it would need to based on a COVID-19 outbreak or other emergency event. As of Sept. 21, the district has 123 active student cases, according to its COVID-19 dashboard.
“We do not plan to have [Tomball Virtual School], but do we have the capacity to? Absolutely,” Zamora said.
Zamora said students who choose the virtual schooling option will have proper equipment and technology, including Chromebooks and wireless hot spots.