‘I have no idea what I’ll do’: Montgomery Co. schools plans to shut down virtual learning program

Montgomery County Public Schools announced Thursday that it would be doing away with its virtual learning program, citing “budget constraints” ahead of a June 11 school board meeting.

In a letter sent out to Montgomery Virtual Academy (MVA) parents, the director of the program, David Chia, said the school system is still “committed to working collaboratively” with families to help transition their student back to in-person schooling.

Chia wrote that the first step in the transition plan is assigning an MCPS staff member to each former MVA family that will facilitate students’ return to local in-person schools by taking the student’s specific requirements into account.

For students who are unable to return to in-person schooling, the first option the school is offering is to enroll the student in Interim Instructional Services — a short-term service for students with physical or medical conditions that allows them to continue schooling at their own pace. The second option would be instructing the student at home under the supervision of the school system or a nonpublic entity registered with the Maryland State Department of Education.

The program, which has an enrollment of nearly 800 students, came about during the pandemic as a way to help support families with children with disabilities and those who were concerned about overcrowding in classrooms. But even as virtual classes have largely become a thing of the past, many families still rely on the flexibility it offers for students with different needs.

“We understand that this is a significant change. We will do our best to make this transition from the Montgomery Virtual Academy back to your child’s home school as smooth as possible,” Chia wrote in the letter.

‘He is more present at MVA than he would be in person’

Kristen Lasko’s son Max, who attends school virtually through the program, said the program’s closure came as a surprise. Max, a fourth grader in the school system, has spinal muscular atrophy and requires a ventilator, a wheelchair and a G-tube to carry out everyday tasks.

But because of the MVA program, “Max has gained independence,” Lasko said. “He has been able to submit everything himself. He’s been able to make gains in reading and in mathematics.”

For Sterling High, whose family — including his 10-year-old son — has been struggling with long-COVID, the MVA program was a massive asset.

“He’s actually been able to excel not just for math and reading, but for meeting friends the way that he likes to meet friends. The Virtual Academy allows more accommodations. I guarantee you, he is more present at MVA than he would be in person,” High told WTOP.

Barbara Galasso, who has three children enrolled in the MVA, said she has “no idea what (she’ll) do” when the program closes.

Of her youngest daughter who’s in the program, Galasso said, “She’s only been in the virtual academy. She loves it. … She loves her teacher, she loves her classmates.”

In a May 24 letter to MCPS families, the school system said it would be considering making changes to certain services and programs in order to “address the significant financial constraints our county is facing” ahead of a meeting with the school board to discuss the fiscal year 2025 budget.

“We want to emphasize that these considerations are not a reflection of the dedication or the quality of work of our staff,” school board president Karla Silvestre and Interim Superintendent Monique Felder said in the May statement.

WTOP has reached out to Chia and the Montgomery County Board of Education for comment regarding the closure. The board was set to vote on the budget, which would have included a final decision on the academy, on June 11.

After a February hearing regarding possible cuts earlier this year, the school board decided to keep the MVA program, but said it would continue to asses the program’s value.

In an emailed statement to WTOP, a schools spokesperson was unable to say just how much closing the MVA would save the school system but that the board is “working through necessary adjustments in the budget.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. 

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Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is the Evening Digital Editor at WTOP. She is a graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

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