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Idaho virtual schools seeing dramatic increase in enrollment amid coronavirus pandemic

“We are starting to see more and more students raise their hand and inquire about attending our school."

BOISE, Idaho — If you're a parent of a student, no doubt, you've been wrestling with the decision of whether to send your child back to school next month and that decision has some parents looking to virtual schools instead.

“As a virtual school we weren’t held up by some of the challenges faced by other schools that teach students in a face-to-face environment,” said Monti Pittman, head of the Idaho Technical Career Academy.

ITCA is a virtual high school that focuses on occupational programs. In addition to academics, students there also learn skills needed in the workforce. 

During the one-year period from July 2019 to July 2020, the academy's enrollment is up 45%.

“We are starting to see more and more students raise their hand and inquire about attending our school,” Pittman said.

He added that parents tell him they're now considering virtual schools because there's an element of uncertainty when it comes to how traditional, in-person schools will handle schooling moving forward. 

New developments and health orders due to the pandemic - like Ada County's recent mask mandate - also are impacting a lot of parents' decisions.

“That bit of information might cause some parents to be concerned about the student’s safety,” Pittman said.  

RELATED: Kuna and Boise school districts address some concerns about Ada County's school mask mandate

Another virtual school - Inspire Connections Academy - is also seeing a spike in enrollment. 

“Typically, during the school year our staff serves statewide about 1,100 students,” said Karen Haines, Inspire Connections Academy principal. “Right now we're seeing about a 40% increase in enrollment.”

She admits though, those enrollment numbers aren't final.

“We have a lot of families that are enrolling with us a placeholder until they know exactly what their local schools may do,” Haines said. 

As of Thursday, more than 3,500 students - or about 14% - enrolled in the Boise School District's online school program

In the West Ada School District, more than 1,400 of its more than 40,000 students have either started or completed the application for its virtual school house.

“It's just a really challenging time for those schools, the brick and mortar schools as well as the parents and the families to decide what is the best situation for their own individual child,” Haines said.

Another virtual school - Gem Prep Online - told KTVB that they have also seen a 40% increase in enrollment this year.

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