Denton ISD launches virtual academy for upcoming school year

Long before the delta COVID-19 variant surge, Denton ISD had already planned to offer a limited amount of remote learning for younger students this school year.

Now, many more students are signed up for it than the district has slots for.

Rex Strong is a first grader learning at a third-grade level.

"He does very well," said his father, Jay Strong. "He tests well above his grade."

Rex is homeschooled. FOX 4 ran into his family in Denton, where the school district is launching a virtual academy next week. 

Caleb Leath is the principal of the Denton ISD K-8th Grade Virtual Academy.

"We are ready to do this. We have so many families that are interested with learning with this modality, virtually," he said. "COVID showed us that our community is ready for it and here we are."

The pandemic forced many students across the country to learn online. An overwhelming amount struggled.

"In general, we all agree that students learn best face to face," Leath said.

Still, Denton ISD says some excelled, and there are plenty of families who don’t want their children going back to in-person learning because of COVID-19 concerns.

"And so those students who struggle a little bit more, we’re really encouraging those students to come back face-to-face," Leath said. "It’s those students who do really well that we want to continue in this environment."

About 220 students enrolled in the virtual academy back in April. 

One issue is that while delta variant cases rise, more families want to register. However, staffing and funding are an issue. About 130 students are on a waiting list, and it is expected to grow.

"That they’re not sure if they’re ready to send their students back yet face-to-face due to the pandemic," Leath said.

Denton ISD says its virtual academy funded with federal and state dollars isn’t going anywhere.

"We have built it to last. And so that is our hope," Leath said.

But if students slack off, they’ll go back to a traditional school.

"They have to continue to make progress to be able to remain in the virtual academy," Leath said.

Rex’s family says homeschooling works for him.

"Doing homeschool gives us the opportunity to when he’s in a mood to really pick things up and run with them, we can do that," said his mother, Dionne Strong.

A virtual academy is something, however, that might take pressure off mom and dad.

Denton ISD is allowing people to continue to register for the waiting list, but it says it’s at the mercy of the state when it comes to funding. 

The district says the TEA is expected to release updated safety guidelines on Thursday.