Students could lose their seats at schools of choice if they go virtual

Posted at 1:02 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 19:38:02-04

EAGLE — West Ada's virtual school house program offers parents who don't feel comfortable sending their kids back into school a way to continue their children's education, but it's not a one size fits all solution.

"Knowing we'd have to make a choice between sending our daughter to school or our son's health, we just don't feel like that a fair place to put parents," said Lori Wielenga, a parent from the district.

Lori's family has the option to attend the district's virtual program next semester. Still, it means her daughter Ella would lose her spot at Galileo STEM Academy, a school of choice they were thrilled to get into via a lottery system.

"If a student leaves a school of choice and they choose to go to the virtual school house, we will fill that seat if there are kids on the waiting list," said chief communication officer Eric Exline.

Other parents at these schools of choice are in the same position.
"It's not a decision; I'm not sending him to school," said Emily Luttman, whose child also attends Galileo STEM Academy,

"Not until there's a vaccine or the end of the pandemic. We are high risk in my house; we've been quarantining since this all this began, and it's not a choice to me.

"There's no guarantee they'll have a spot when school returns but the district is making some accommodations.

"If they are a student with an underlying health condition, that puts them at risk of staying in a regular school, we will reserve them a spot," said Exline.

A good solution, but it certainly doesn't account for families like the Wielengas.

"Ella herself does not have any medical conditions on her own, but her brother does, and sending her to a school of between 800-1000 people in the building at any given day, with the skyrocketing numbers, her chance of exposure is off the chart," said Wielenga.

Parents are hoping to see other possible solutions implemented, so they don't have to risk their family's health for their child's education.

"In a perfect world, I would like to see kids stay in their schools of choice and participate virtually with their classroom," said Luttmann.

They also want to see their schools put the STEM skills they're teaching in their classrooms to use.

"We have a national pandemic that's affecting our state, and skyrocketing numbers, we have an actual real life problem here, so let's use our stem education to solve that problem," said Wielenga.

The district says they plan to ask the board to waive a policy that would allow them to put students who don't go back in person to schools of choice first in next year's lottery.

It still won't guarantee a seat for them, but it would put them first on the waiting list.