Oldham Co. parents with sick children want better virtual learning options for all students

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 6:01 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Parenting has evolved for many in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shannon Stocker of Oldham County said she has been faced with more responsibilities than ever before.

“I completely stopped working and spent all my time teaching my children,” Stocker explained to WAVE 3 News.

Since August, she has been both mother and teacher, helping her two children, 12-year-old Cassidy and 10-year-old Tye, with their assignments from Oldham County Schools. Quickly, Stocker said she noticed Cassidy, usually a straight-A student, struggling with the district’s Edgenuity virtual learning academy.

“She would come to me and say, ‘I feel like I learned nothing,’” Stocker said. “I have just finished this entire section and I feel like I learned nothing.”

Stocker said her daughter often worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on her computer and barely knew her teachers. Assignments would disappear occasionally, leaving Cassidy feeling confusing and discouraged.

“It did not work,” Stocker said. “It did not work.”

In October, school took a back seat to life.

Cassidy was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that had reached her hypothalamus. She needed to travel to Cincinnati for weekly chemotherapy appointments, meaning the constants of Edgenuity were no longer possible. Stocker said the district worked with her daughter and switched her to hospital learning, a form of Non-Traditional Instruction, or NTI.

Stocker said she realized quickly the difference between the two programs and said for the first time all year her daughter was actually learning with NTI.

“It’s crazy, right?” Stocker said. “It took brain cancer for her to get access to an education this year. I believe that the school means well with the Edgenuity platform, that they meant well when they first got it, but it’s failing everybody on Edgenuity that I know. I don’t know a single person on Edgenuity who thinks, ‘My child is flourishing.’”

Oldham County spokesperson Lori McDowell confirmed to WAVE 3 News parents were given a choice to enroll in VLA through Edgenuity or NTI at the beginning of the school year. Once a decision was made, parents would not be able to switch their child’s education platform until the next trimester. If a district would return to in-person learning at some point during the trimester, McDowell said the parents who chose to use NTI must commit to sending their child back to class.

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Stocker told WAVE 3 News that her daughter had been suffering from migraines for months. Stocker, fearful of what might occur in the future, opted for VLA through Egenuity in August, knowing that her daughter couldn’t commit to an in-person education when her immune system was compromised.

“From the get-go, I felt like we had to choose between a good education and health,” Stocker said.

She is not the only parent in Oldham County making tough choices for their children.

Jennifer Lohr said she feels as if she is in a similar situation as Stocker. Her two children are in high school in Oldham County. She told WAVE 3 News daughter, a junior, is flourishing in NTI, taking AP classes as she attempts to earn college credits.

Now, Lohr’s daughter is having her own health issues.

“We are seeing specialists this week,” Lohr said. “And it’s even more frustrating and hard on me as a parent, that I on top of having to deal with her health, I know I have to deal with her education and doing the right thing for that.”

Lohr said her daughter remains undiagnosed as of now, and the uncertainty puts her family in a difficult position. She wants to decommit from NTI mid-trimester, fearing district leaders may make the decision to return to in-person learning soon, something she does not feel comfortable with her daughter doing. But VLA is an undesirable alternative for her, and she fears it might interfere with her daughter’s ability to complete her AP courses and earn college credits.

She said school district leaders are willing to work with her family, however she believes that all Oldham County students should have access to a better virtual education option.

“I was offered accommodations possibly for my own children, and I won’t do that,” Lohr said. “The entire county has to be accommodated, not just one family.”

Both Stocker and Lohr told WAVE 3 News they’re frustrated with their school system, which many consider one of the best in the state. They argue they’re fighting not just for their children, but also others in their community, hoping others won’t have to choose between health and education.

“It’s the most terrifying nightmare that any parent can live through,” Stocker said.

“A parent should never be put in that position to have to choose their education or their health which one is more important,” Lohr said. “Of course, my child’s health is always going to come before their education, because I can’t put her in a dangerous predicament.”

Oldham County Schools declined an interview on camera but sent WAVE 3 News a statement. It reads:

“The Governor’s Executive Order states that all public schools that reopen to in-person instruction must provide meaningful virtual options for all students, and ensure that students who participate in virtual learning options have the same access to rigorous instruction and course work that they would have access to in person or provide a commensurate alternative without negatively impacting a student’s academic standing. This includes access to advance placement courses as well as opportunities to complete required career and technical education.

The Executive Order applies to all Kentucky districts – some of which already had a virtual option, and some of which did not. The EO was issued in response to parent concerns that districts were (or could) offer a bare bones virtual program that did not include arts, languages, career ed, or honors/AP/dual credit courses. The EO does not require districts to offer the exact same classes in the VLA as in-person as long as it offers a “commensurate alternative” without negatively impacting the student’s academic standing. Students must have the opportunity to earn college credit and receive the weighted grades that accompany AP classes (and ultimately affect KEES money).

Since its inception this summer, OCS has offered a rigorous curriculum through our Virtual Learning Academy, which includes nearly a dozen AP offerings, arts and humanities, and several dozen elective courses. In addition, the district is willing and prepared to accommodate a student who is wishing to transfer to VLA from in-person at the next enrollment period and are currently taking an AP course not offered through VLA. Therefore, we are confident we are doing our best to ensure the highest levels of learning for all our students, including those who wish to attend virtually.”

McDowell told WAVE 3 News district leaders have explored the possibility of creating an online classroom livestream for students who do not feel comfortable returning to in-person learning. She said that option is not possible right now.

McDowell also stressed that the district is willing to work with parents who have concerns.

Copyright 2021 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.