Hultgren/My Turn: Educational options

With the school year over, Massachusetts’ full-time online students can look forward to more than just summer vacation. Thanks to smart thinking by the Greenfield School Committee, virtual education will continue in 2013-2014 as a state option for public school students. But the outlook wasn’t always so rosy.

The Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA) educates more than 470 students throughout the state. A diploma-granting, public school that is part of the Greenfield Public Schools, MAVA offers full-time virtual learning for K-10 students. The school, like its brick-and-mortar counterparts, adheres to local and state requirements and employs state-certified teachers. For MAVA students, as for the many full-time virtual students across the nation, online learning offers a range of benefits. Chief among them is flexibility to unique learning needs. Consider, for example, students whose abilities require a different pace of instruction. Whether they be gifted learners who yearn for a challenge or special-needs students who are intimidated by the tempo of the classroom, these students hit their stride with virtual learning. The virtual option is likewise appealing to students who face health challenges and require an adjustable schedule or to students who face social challenges, such as bullying or social anxiety, and prefer to learn without distraction.

So it came as a shock to Massachusetts parents when the Greenfield School Committee voted in early March to shut down the virtual academy. By opting not to submit a proposal to the state to continue operating MAVA, the committee effectively closed the doors on the school, eliminating full-time virtual learning in Massachusetts.

As luck would have it, Greenfield reconsidered. Facing parent and community outcry, the School Committee issued a reverse decision that better reflected the needs of Massachusetts students. On March 21, the Greenfield School Committee voted to move forward with submitting a proposal to continue MAVA operations.

The turn of events illustrates the centrality of parent voices to the ongoing debate on public school options. We parents will do most anything to see our children get a fair shot at learning, and we won’t sit idly when the solution our child needs gets snatched away. For a number of parents in Massachusetts, that solution is full-time virtual learning.

So I applaud the Greenfield committee for taking parents’ voices to heart. I am equally grateful to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Rep. Paul Mark, for their loyalty to parents and students. They have helped cultivate an environment conducive to student choice, and we parents appreciate that. We urge our legislators to continue advocating for bills that maintain students’ public school options.

If the proposal process goes well, MAVA students can count on business as usual in the virtual classroom for several years to come. The options we need have been hard won, though. As the initial Greenfield decision shocked us into realizing, we parents must remain mindful and vigilant to sustain the options our kids need. They may look no further than summer vacation, but we have an eye for their future — the life they will pursue and the education that prepares them for it.

Lin Hultgren is a member of the Massachusetts Chapter of PublicSchoolOptions.org, a national alliance that supports parents’ right to access the best public school options for their children. She is a resident of Worcester.

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