The Summit School District will not be offering distance learning next year.
The Summit School Board voted 4-2 against the program, which would have been an online alternative for students who don’t want to attend school in person for health, social or family reasons. Johanna Kugler and Lisa Webster were the only board members to vote in favor of the program. Chris Alleman did not attend the meeting.
Prior to the vote, the board heard an hour of public commentary in which many students, parents and staff spoke on the issue. Those who chose to speak were widely divided. Some staff members expressed concerns about the costs of the program while families said it enabled their students to attend public school.
“When we went to online learning with the pandemic, my child’s anxiety level went down,” parent and teacher Kerry Bergstrom said in a public comment. “He was at home. He was safe. He was learning.
The distance learning program began as a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic and was funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds. That money has since dried up, so the program required board approval to continue. In the end, board members felt that more thought should be given to the program before committing one’s own funds to it.
“(We) build the plane while we fly it,” board member Consuelo Redhorse said of the program.
This year, 68 students participated in the program, including 20 in primary school and 48 in middle or high school.
While elementary students participated in live conferences with district teachers via telecommunications platforms, middle and high school students used the Edgenuity program, an online application that facilitates the curriculum and digital teaching. These students received additional support from a district teacher.
Edgenuity has been controversial for families in the district. Some feel it does not meet the same program standards as in-person teaching.
The district reportedly spent $363,002 to run the program, which would have covered the cost of two full-time staff members, supplies, and program services like Edgenuity. The district needed 36 students to enroll for the program to break even, said chief financial officer Kara Drake.
This number is not guaranteed and board members are concerned about the possibility of losing money on the program.
“I am very uncomfortable with the addition of another program that only serves a small population, when we have very big problems for the remaining 98% or 99% of our children,” said Board Chair Kate Hudnut.
Board members and staff members who spoke during public comments would like to see funds redirected to in-person school services. At the moment, the district is struggling with a staff shortage. There are 74 open positions Tuesday night, according to the district’s careers page.
The situation has left many classrooms without paraprofessionals, who are often essential in supporting students through interventions and individual work.
However, some district officials are concerned about what will happen to the 68 students currently using the program. Drake and Dore said they assumed those students would seek alternatives outside the district, which would mean lower incomes.
Board members urged district officials to try to find solutions to social issues, like bullying, that drive students to choose the program in the first place.
“It’s a huge, huge mental health issue, and we can’t let that go,” Kugler said.