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Virtual school receives positive response from homeschoolers

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By Tom Wilmoth

Discussion of increasing the cost of school meals, of decreasing the school budget and starting an online school will be among the issues considered during Thursday?s Bedford County School Board meeting.

The meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Gibson Memorial Auditorium at the Bedford Science and Technology Center, will be preceded by a 4 p.m. work session on the budget at the conference room at the School Board Administration Building. A vote on the budget will take place during the regular meeting.

School officials sent out a letter last month to 405 families with registered homeschooled students in Bedford County, to gauge their interest in participating in a virtual school program through the county. The packets included a survey post card asking parents if they would consider having their children participate in the program if it was made available next school year.

More than 140 surveys were returned to the county, with 51 families reporting they would be interested in having their children involved. That represented a total of 76 children. Because the program would initially only go through sixth grade, only 42 would be able to participate next year.

Still, school officials will ask the board to approve going forward with the program, which is an effort to bring homeschool students ? and their state provided school fund money ? back into the public education fold. The county has more than 550 homeschooled students.

The proposal was first brought up to the board during a budget work session earlier this year and discussed last month by the board.

School officials claim that with at least 30 students the program could break even, and with more students could even be a revenue source of funds ? to the tune of $4,800 per student ? back into county schools coffers. The program would cost the county from $2,600 to $3,000 per student annually to operate. A high school curriculum could be added in subsequent years.

The program would be provided free of charge to county students and would be also offered to those outside the county for a tuition cost. The benefit to homeschoolers would be a savings in curriculum costs, which can sometimes be costly, school personnel noted.

The proposal is to operate the school as part of Big Island Elementary. Students enrolled would have to take Virginia Standards of Learning tests and those scores would be incorporated into the school?s results. Big Island principal Dr. Deborah Shelton would oversee the program and at least one teacher, depending on enrollment, would be hired to interact with students and parents on the curriculum. If a high school curriculum is added, those students enrolled would also be able to participate in extra-curricular activities with the school system.