Last week, the Tennessee Department of Education announced the approval of 29 new virtual schools for the 2021-22 school year, bringing the total number of virtual schools operating across the state to fifty-seven.
“As we head into the new school year, educators and school and district leaders throughout the state are focused on ensuring student achievement and serving the needs of all students in their communities,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Last school year, districts responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing additional operating models and learning formats to ensure that families had options and students could continue learning with their classmates and teachers when out of school buildings. While research shows that students benefit most from in-person classroom instruction, districts are ensuring families who prefer a virtual education setting for their students have those options and can continue to make the best choices for their children.”
Beginning in 2011, the Tennessee Virtual Public Schools Act was passed and allowed local education agencies to create virtual schools to offer an alternative mode of instruction for students.
Included in these new approved schools are Coffee County Virtual Academy, available for grades 6-12 in the Coffee County School System, and Tullahoma Virtual Academy for grades 9-12 in the Tullahoma City Schools.
Due to COVID-19 disruptions during the 2020-21 school year, in June 2020 the Tennessee State Board of Education promulgated an emergency rule to require school districts and public charter schools to develop Continuous Learning Plans (CLPs) that addressed how they would continue to provide instruction in a fully virtual environment. By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, all Tennessee offered in-person learning options, and in April 2021 the State Board passed a permanent rule which limits the ability for districts and public charter schools to utilize a CLP to provide remote instruction in the upcoming 2021-22 school year unless the Governor declares a state of emergency and the commissioner of education grants permission. As a result, families desiring that their students continue to receive a significant portion of their instruction remotely must enroll their students in a virtual school.
For the 2021-22 school year, applications came from districts throughout the state working to implement a variety of instructional delivery modes that work best for the students, families and communities they serve.