State will offer virtual schools

Associated Press
Jessica Miller, 14, of Rock Hill, S.C., demonstrates the process of the virtual school to parents during an information seminar.

YORK, S.C.--- Forget lockers and lunchrooms, eighth-grader Will Edwards starts his school day by logging onto a computer in his living room. Undisturbed by noisy classmates, he completes his assignments in about six hours, Monday through Thursday -- and reserves most Fridays for hunting and fishing with his father.

The 14-year-old left his local public school in November to be homeschooled by a private national online program his parents pay for. Next fall, however, Will hopes to be enrolled in one of three new full-time public cyber schools expected to open in South Carolina.

"Teachers weren't giving me enough to do," he said recently. "I get to stay at home. And I like the quiet."

Two kindergarten-through 12th-grade schools are set to take up to 1,500 students. A third cyber high school, for up to 500 students, will be evaluated next month.

South Carolina is joining at least 18 other states that allow students to go to cyber school full time. The state already is among at least 38 where students can take some state-run virtual classes to supplement their schedule, according to a report from the North American Council for Online Learning.

More than 750 students have signed up for 500 slots in one school, and a lottery will determine enrollment. At least 900 more have signed up for the other virtual school, which will stop taking applications next month.

Full-time cyber schools, proponents note, doesn't mean students spend all day on a computer. Students also use traditional textbooks and other materials include microscopes and art supplies, which arrive by mail. Students can log in at specific hours for live lessons with teachers, or e-mail or call teachers at other times.

"It's not for everyone, but if you look at our world today, technology is how we're learning," said former state Education Superintendent Barbara Nielsen

Ms. Nielsen is now interim superintendent of the state's public charter school district, which approves and oversees the cyber schools.

Proponents say students who fit well in the program include competitive athletes who need flexible hours, gifted students bored with traditional classes, or students who are highly allergic, pregnant or need to work.