School leaders talk online school enrollment

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(ABC 6 News) – As kids and parents head back to school, some school districts are offering alternative learning options for the upcoming year. Online learning was a difficult adjustment for many families with children in K-12 schools, but school officials say that some of their students actually thrived.

"We had many learners who recognized that they did quite well under the online learning model," Jacque Peterson, executive director of education at Rochester Public Schools, said.

Rochester Public Schools and Albert Lea Area schools recognized this, and developed permanent online schooling options for their students.

Last year, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order asking all schools to offer distance learning. This year, school districts had to get specific licensing by the state to develop new courses and curriculum for K-12 online-only academies.

"This school is a school like any other, it just doesn’t have walls. It’s a virtual environment but offering the same rigorous curriculum," Peterson said.

Rochester Public Schools has already seen close to 500 students enroll to be fully or partially online and they expect those numbers to grow.

"We are fully anticipating that we could have more students enroll," Peterson said.

Albert Lea Area Schools opened enrollment for their Albert Lea Online Academy in June after the school year had already ended. Now they’re working to make sure families are aware of this new online option.

"We know that educating our students is very important and teaching them the best way they learn when possible is also very helpful," John Double, principal of Albert Lea Online Academy, said.

They’re looking for more students to enroll. Both Albert Lea and Rochester offer hybrid online options as well. Students can also switch from completely online to completely in-person after each grading period. Graham Briggs helps advise the public on safe COVID-19 practices, but he’s also a dad who wants his girls to have a normal school experience.

"There’s and understanding that our kids need to be in school. They need learning and friends and social interaction but there’s also – those are my two little girls I want them to be safe and I’d do anything to protect them," Briggs said.

Both school systems are still accepting enrollment for online school in the fall.