The Little Rock School District's plan for offering kindergarten-through-12th grade students a remote, online instructional program now has a name and an initial student registration deadline.
May 3 is the deadline for parents to indicate their interest in enrolling their students in the Ignite Digital Academy for either elementary or secondary grades for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.
The new digital academy is a byproduct of the pandemic-induced virtual instruction that occurred in the Little Rock district and throughout the state starting in March 2020 and going through the current school year.
School districts scrambled in March 2020 to distribute Chromebook computers and hot spots to students when Gov. Asa Hutchinson closed schools to on-site instruction in an effort to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus. The remote instruction continued for thousands of students in this current school year.
About 21% of the state's more than 470,000 students -- or more than 97,000 students statewide -- relied on remote instruction this school year. In the Little Rock district, about 8,300 of its 21,000 students were remote learners at one point earlier this academic year.
The Ignite Academy for kindergarten through sixth grade and for students in seventh through 12th grades comes at a time when school systems across the state are considering similar digital schools -- following on the heels of the few trailblazing systems such as the Arkansas Virtual Academy and Arkansas Connections Academy charter schools that offered remote instruction prior to the covid-19 pandemic.
In the Pulaski County Special School District, state-approval has been awarded for the Driven Virtual Academy that is a conversion charter school.
For districts like Little Rock that want to offer remote instruction in the coming year without creating a charter school, the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has directed districts to apply by the end of this month for any waivers of state laws and rules that they will need to operate a digital school without avoid violating state education standard such as class size caps and minimum hours per school day.
Arkansas Deputy Education Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer said earlier this year that digital instruction and learning are the future of education.
"It's an opportunity for districts to be able to expand on what they are doing now," Pfeffer said about the waiver application process. "I do think this is the best way to move forward to meet the needs of students."
The capital city school district's plan is for a more structured and polished virtual instruction option than what is available now.
In the proposed Ignite Digital Academy, teachers will be assigned full time to online instruction and will not be juggling to teach both in-classroom and remote students -- which has occurred this school year.
The Ignite Academy plans provide instructional options.
Students and their families can choose synchronous instruction in which students and their teachers work together in real time on a set schedule.
Asynchronous instruction -- in which teacher lessons are recorded for later viewing by students -- is an instructional option for students who need greater flexibility in scheduling.
District planners say that the digital academies can benefit students who have to work, are parents themselves or have physical and emotional conditions that hinder them from success in a traditional classroom. The free program -- in which computer devices are provided to students and hot spots for internet connectivity if needed -- can be attractive to families that otherwise would opt for a home schooling or for private school.
The class sizes in the virtual academies will increase by grade, starting at 25 students maximum per class in kindergarten and first grade, 30 students maximum in second- and third-grade classes, 35 in fourth and fifth grades, and 40 students per section or class in the sixth grade with a maximum of 170 students per sixth-grade teacher.
Virtual classes at the secondary grades will be 40 students per class. Teachers will have no more than 170 students total.
Families that choose the virtual academies must commit for a school year, according to the plans. Students who do not achieve at a 70% or better level of mastery of material in all the core subject areas will be provided additional support. But those who continue to struggle will be assigned to their attendance-zone school for the more traditional in-class instruction.
The district will hold for one calendar year a student's 2021-22 seat at their attendance zone school or their school of record at the time the family selects the virtual academy. The parent must register their student to return to in-person instruction during the normal open-enrollment period in December. Those who do not sign up to return at that time will forfeit their seat for the next school year.
Digital Academy students will be required to take both district and state-mandated tests in person at the a Little Rock district site, under the supervision of an academy teacher.
Ignite Digital Academy students will be eligible to participate in athletic and extracurricular activities that are offered/sponsored by their brick-and-mortar school of record. Digital Academy students must meet the same eligibility requirements as traditional in-person students must meet for the applicable athletic team and/or extracurricular activity.
The Ignite Digital Academy is open to any student who lives within Pulaski County. Students who attended school as a virtual student during the current 2020-2021 school year must have received passing grades in all subjects and have had satisfactory attendance.
More information about remote instruction and the application process are available at the following district websites: lrsd.org/ignite or lrsd.org/domain/708.