Dubuque school district officials say they are looking at potentially opening a permanent online school

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) – Dubuque Community School district officials are looking into what opening a permanent online school would look like for the district. District leaders said interest in learning, fully-online, has been consistent since the start of the pandemic.

“It really comes down to the number of students that we have currently enrolled in our online offering,” Mark Burns, the district’s executive director of secondary education, said. “We have about 300 students.”

Burns explained, first, district officials need to make sure opening an online school makes sense both for students’ learning and for the district’s finances. He added, they believe this could be a great opportunity for some students.

“They find themselves more comfortable in that online setting, and they seem to be more successful,” he said. “They are more of a self-starter or someone who enjoys working by themselves at their own pace.”

Students from across Iowa would be able to enroll in this new online school, regardless of whether they live in Dubuque or not. That could mean, Burns mentioned, the Dubuque school district could see an increase in enrollment, which has been the case at the Clayton Ridge Community School District.

Clayton Ridge has had an online academy up and running for more than a decade. It currently serves 663 students from across the state, a number that has gone up in the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Superintendent Shane Wahls said there were 495 students enrolled in the online academy in 2019.

Wahls said, though, setting up a permanent online school requires much planning.

“Making sure that you can provide all of the same services that you would provide for brick and mortar students attending face to face,” he mentioned. “And that can extend, not only from special education, but students that might have a 504 plan or some health needs.”

He also points out setting up online platforms where teachers and students can meet up for live sessions.

“Online schooling cannot be just about you give some assignments online, there has to be some live sessions, interaction with the teacher and other students,” he added.

Wahls said the district has noticed an online school has worked for some students. He points to students who cope with anxiety or face bullying and harassment and those with serious medical conditions.

“You have got some families, and they have got students that have significant health needs, so they might be attending class and live sessions even from a hospital bed or from home because they are not able to attend brick and mortar,” he explained.

Dubuque school officials say, if they do decide to move forward with a permanent online school, they could put it in motion rather quickly.

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