New model, but no new seats in ‘Chesterfield Virtual School’

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — As schools adjust to the latest wave of COVID cases, some parents in Chesterfield are looking to options for online schooling – not just to protect their children from COVID-19, but also to seek a more flexible learning style that’s a better fit for some students.

In fact, a lot of parents are looking for that option. So many that Chesterfield’s Virtual Learning Academy (VLA), an online option for grades K-8, had a waitlist of nearly 500 students at the start of 2022.

And while that option was introduced due to the pandemic, Dr. Bruce Fillman, the VLA’s principal, told the school board in a presentation on Tuesday that they wanted to make it available permanently.

The updated program, called the Chesterfield Virtual School, would offer all core academic courses for grades K-8, as well as resource classes like gym and music for elementary schoolers and honors courses for middle schoolers.

“What we’re proposing is comparable to a brick and mortar school,” Dr. Fillman said.

Like a brick and mortar school, it would come complete with a mascot – the viper – and dedicated special education and ESL support staff.

But for hopeful parents stuck on the waitlist, the change won’t mean much. Dr. Fillman noted that staffing levels would remain virtually unchanged and current students would be automatically guaranteed a seat.

Currently, there are 1,668 students enrolled in VLA, but the program can accommodate an absolute maximum of 1,881.

That maximum would actually decrease under the new Chesterfield Virtual School plan, dropping to 1,816.

For parents and students stuck in limbo, the county also offers enrollment in the state-run Virtual Virginia program. But that program has its own waitlist.

When school officials reached out to parents on the waitlist for local virtual options last November, only 10% said they wanted to enroll their children in Virtual Virginia. The rest chose to continue waiting – or gave up on online learning altogether.

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