The decision to allow “virtual students” to participate in school activities sparked debate at the Circle school district school board meeting Monday.
“Virtual students” are those who do not go to a physical school building full time, like those who are home-schooled or take classes online.
The board voted on the proposal and it passed 4-2.
The debate and approval of the issue was the final step in a process started back in September by Benton resident Edmon Schrader.
Schrader has three children—Nathan, 7, Michaela, 11, and Justin, 13—who are all homeschooled by him and his wife, Tredessa.
Justin and Michaela are in middle school and want to participate in activities at Circle Middle School.
Michaela wants to be in the band and play volleyball and softball, while Justin wants to play soccer and also tryout for the wrestling team.
Following a change last year of the Kansas High School Activities Association (KSHAA) policy that allows online and home-school students to participate in school activities, Schrader presented the issue to the school board.
It was rejected.
At that time, the board expressed concerns Circle students could potentially drop out of the school curriculum and take online courses instead because they could still participate in sports. The board also expressed concerns of a virtual student taking the place a Circle student on a team.
The board then approved a notion that in order for virtual students to participate in activities at Circle, they would have to be enrolled in at least five credit hours of classes and physically attend the school.
Schrader then enrolled Justin and Michaela in classes at Circle, and for the next month and a half, Schrader circulated a petition and received 227 signatures of support from people in the Circle school district.
“We didn’t circulate the petition just to get a mass of a bunch of names to show the board how many people we got,” Edmon said to the board, “but we did want to get enough to get a sample of the community and how they felt about the policy.”
Tredessa and Michaela also spoke in front of the board. After they finished, many of the board members expressed their concerns over the issue.
Board member Stewart Stevens said he had a problem with “a student not being in school the day of an event.”
“That’s a requirement to participate in a sport that day,” Stevens said. “If they are not there at school, they don’t have any ground to stand on to say, ‘Well, I was sick that day but I can play tonight’.”
Page 2 of 2 - Since it is part of KSHAA policy to require students to be at school the day of event in order to participate, many of the board members agreed the KSHAA policy would have to be addressed in the future.
They also said allowing the virtual students to come and participate at school events could create “exclusive situations” for those who don’t physically attend school and those who do.
“We are not are trying to be difficult,” said Board Member Anita Mills to Schrader, “It’s thinking out and figuring out all the peculiars, because it’s bigger than just one small issue.”
Underlying the board’s hesitation to allow Schrader’s children to participate in Circle activities was the fact the Circle schools don’t provide an online-school service.
Therefore, Schrader’s children have to take online classes through Andover and although they are in the Circle school district and pay those taxes, they are technically not paying the school directly.
Superintendent Jim Johnson said the logical solution would be for Circle to “create an e-school program.”
“What we need to do is look at our own e-school program down the road. Then it is not a problem,” Johnson said. “We get the funding, they are our kids, it’s our accountability and we are not relying on Andover to keep them accountable. The solution would be to provide our patrons in the area with that service.”
Following this, the board members debated back and forth for nearly half an hour and eventually agreed the Circle school needs to begin pursuing creating an e-school program.
Schrader re-iterated the fact this situation would start happening more frequently in the future.
“The times are changing, and the schools are changing. I don’t think that they [virtual students] are something that will be going away.”
Nearing the end of the discussion, Board Member Herb Sello proposed a motion to the board “to allow virtual students to participate in activities, while the school investigates an e-school option.”
Afterwards, Edmon was relieved by the board’s decision.
“We are happy,” Schrader said. “We won’t have to enroll them in outside leagues.”