The Robbinsdale Area Schools Board voted 6-1 at the March 15 meeting to approve the expansion of the Robbinsdale Virtual Academy to include K-5 students. Boardmember Michael Herring voted against the action.
Herring said he had concerns about the timing of the expansion, especially as it relates to teachers, which is the reason he voted against the action. The district should have been more prepared, he said.
Boardmember John Vento said he understands Herring’s concerns but there is legislation in the Minnesota House allowing districts to offer distance learning next year, without the approval of this expansion, he said.
Vento added he thinks it is wise for the district to move forward and expand the virtual academy.
Vice Chair Helen Bassett said that Robbinsdale and other districts are in an evolutionary process. The district took a proactive approach with distance learning and she thinks continuing to be proactive is a wise move.
Boardmember Pam Lindberg said she didn’t initially support the expansion but so many students are interested in the virtual academy. Currently, about 38 districts have online schools and that number is predicted to go up to 70 districts, she said.
Interim Superintendent Stephanie Burrage said district officials are managing educating students and coming up with new innovative ways to meet the needs of families. The district’s largest elementary school is its distance learning schools. COVID-19 is changing how the district manages education and she doesn’t think it will ever be the same again, she added.
Burrage said that there are families in the district that are a divided house, with one student going back to in-person learning and another student staying in distance learning because they aren’t ready to go back.
Herring clarified that he isn’t against the virtual programs but is concerned about staffing. He noted that the district doesn’t know how many students will stay in the online format in September.
The district can’t staff for what is happening today because they are starting to come to the end of a pandemic, he said. Herring hopes that families will feel comfortable having students come back in the buildings next fall.
Bassett said she is interested in watching how it progresses and seeing the updates or whether they need to make a shift. “This is new ground and it’s evolutionary,” she said.
Chair David Boone said he’s happy that the district is moving forward with the expansion. District officials are taking the good with the bad and are trying to meet the need for this option, he said. He looks forward to seeing how the district will recruit not just locally, but across the nation to bring enrollment numbers up.
Boardmember Greta Evans-Becker asked that if more students decide to attend in-person school, would the staffing be adjusted to those needs.
Burrage said that is how the district would normally staff schools. Interim Assistant Superintendent Marti Voight confirmed that is correct and there is language in the contract that they would follow.