Registration for new ‘Tacoma Online’ school opens Wednesday. Families face difficult choice

Registration for new ‘Tacoma Online’ school opens Wednesday. Families face difficult choice
Registration for “Tacoma Online,” a new, full-time online platform rolled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will open this month. Families grapple with whether the platform is right for them. (Tacoma Publice Schools)

TACOMA, Wash. — Registration for “Tacoma Online,” a new, full-time online platform rolled out by Tacoma Public Schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, opened to families on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The platform allows students enrolled in Tacoma Public Schools to access core content courses and elective courses online anytime and complete assignments at their own pace.

It’s different from “remote learning,” which TPS announced last month was the plan for reopening in the fall in light of guidance from the Pierce County Health Department.

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Students enrolled in Tacoma Online are locked in for several months. In other words, elementary students enrolled in Tacoma Online must stay in the program for an entire trimester (until Dec. 7, 2020) before they can opt out. Secondary students enrolled must stay in the program for an entire semester (Feb. 5, 2021).

By contrast, remote learning students work with the same class and teachers at their enrolled neighborhood school or choice school, both online and through other means, such as take-home packets.

If health officials recommend that students can return to school, remote learning students will be able to return to school in-person immediately, but Tacoma Online students must continue their online work until the end of their term.

Without a clear understanding of what COVID-19 transmission rates might look like this fall, the options leave some parents with a difficult choice.

“We haven’t made a final decision yet but are currently leaning towards Tacoma Online because of the more flexible schedule,” said Tacoma parent Nicole Matthaei via the Organize: Parents of Tacoma Support Facebook page.

Registration opens at noon. Priority enrollment will be made for students registered by Aug. 24. School starts Sept. 9. The registration form will be online at tacomaschools.org.

The district previously capped Tacoma Online enrollment at 2,000 students but removed that rule on Tuesday. There will be no cap on enrollment, and any student ages kindergarten through 12th grade can apply.

When asked how teachers will be chosen for the model, Tacoma Education Association president Shannon Ergun said the union is still in negotiations with the district to determine that.

“There are several factors to consider, and we are working to be intentional in meeting the needs of members, students and families,” Ergun said in an email.

In the meantime, Tacoma families are trying to find out if the new platform work for them.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

Tacoma Public Schools provided an example of what a Tacoma Online student’s schedule might look like:

  • 8:30 a.m. - Breakfast
  • 9 a.m. - Language Arts
  • 10 a.m. - Elective (100+ offerings)
  • 10:30 a.m. - Math
  • 11:30 a.m. - Recess/Break/Relaxation
  • 12 p.m. - Lunch
  • 12:30 p.m. - Language Arts continues
  • 1 p.m. - Science
  • 2 p.m. - Music
  • 2:30 p.m. - Social studies
  • 3:30 p.m. - Flex time (prepare for the next day/week)

Tacoma Online students set their own schedule, working collaboratively with a teacher.

Learning is done through Edgenuity, a K–12 online curriculum provider. The lessons are both live with a teacher and recorded for students to access later.

Tacoma Online students take the same standardized tests and are graded the same as all other Tacoma students. Tacoma Online also follows the same year-long calendar as the district.

Reliable, consistent internet access is a prerequisite for Tacoma Online. The Foundation for Tacoma Students is accepting requests for students that may need help acquiring internet access.

Tacoma Public Schools plans to provide computer access to high school and middle school students by the beginning of the school year in September. Elementary students might have to wait until January.

PARENTS CONSIDER OPTIONS

Some parents are still making up their minds about whether they’ll apply for Tacoma Online. Others have already made up their minds.

Some who are interested want to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Tacoma parent Christina White said one of her children is immunocompromised.

“As a mom of 4 school aged kids, it would be in our best interest to go this route,” White told The News Tribune via Facebook.

Parent and Tacoma paraeducator Liz Waller also is considering Tacoma Online.

“I am also a district employee in a different building than my daughter. I worry if she or I get exposed at school, not only does that risk ... exposing our family but also potential exposure to the staff and students in another location,” Waller said.

Others are avoiding Tacoma Online. Rebecca Nail Moore worries about her children, a first grader and third grader, not being familiar with the Tacoma Online teachers.

“... if we chose Tacoma Online they have no clue who the teacher is. If we do remote learning with the school, they have almost certainly at least seen their teachers,” she said.

Moore’s children also go to a school that is not their closest neighborhood school. She worried about losing her choice enrollment spot there, but district spokesperson Dan Voelpel said students will not lose their spot in their choice school if they choose Tacoma Online.

Other families are steering clear of the program because they chose schools in Tacoma that provide specific instruction on certain topics, like Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA), School of Industrial Design, Engineering and Arts (iDEA) or Science and Math Institute (SAMI).

“With two at iDEA and one at SAMI, my students chose to attend these schools for the specialized courses and instruction,” said parent Glory Tichy.