PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Fifth-grade student Gabriel Robbins is taking classes online through the Arizona Virtual Academy. His first grade sister Anina is learning online, as well.
Their parents decided virtual learning is a better option right now, with so many students catching COVID-19 in Arizona classrooms. "It seems with the Delta variant going on, there are more cases that involve children," said parent Souraya Robbins. "My children are seemingly healthy, but so are other kids that have been getting really sick. It's not a risk I am willing to take."
The push for in-person instruction has been front and center to start the new school year, but the pandemic and latest spike in COVID-19 cases has a lot of moms and dads re-evaluating what's best for their children.
Bailey Badillo doesn't want her 6-year old son Mateo getting sick, and doesn't like the idea of him wearing a mask, so she enrolled him into an online program with Primavera Online School. "The idea of wearing a mask all day long is a tough thing to ask of a kid," said Badillo. "To have him be able to be at home and be a little more comfortable made more sense to us."
The recent rash of COVID-19 cases among children has brought online schools back into the spotlight.
Amy Discher is director of guidance with Primavera Online School. She said one of the biggest things they can offer parents right now is stability: not having to worry about positive cases on campus, possible quarantines, or a sudden shift to online instruction. "The great thing about online is that you're at home, not having to worry about other students and their germs, or teachers not really having to worry about Covid cases," said Discher. "One of the great things about being online is that you are not having the mask policy issue or the debate. It's just a non issue."
A number of parents claim full-time, online schools are better equipped to provide virtual learning than traditional public and charter schools, which offer it as a secondary option. However, critics of virtual learning insist there is no substitute for the social benefits of children interacting with friends and teachers.
Most public and charter schools in Arizona offer an online option. However, students are not allowed to switch back and forth from in-person learning to virtual instruction.
Students have to wait until after the semester or quarter before going online, or returning to the classroom.
Another issue that has popped up is that public schools do not allow kids to switch back and forth from virtual to in-person education. Kids must commit to one or the other for an entire semester or quarter.
Critics of virtual learning say there's no replacement for kids being in class interacting with other students and teachers.