Joshua ISD Plans to End Virtual Learning in January

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Students in the Joshua Independent School District will no longer have access to virtual learning after the Christmas break.

The superintendent and school board made the decision to end virtual instruction saying they've had very low numbers of COVID-19 cases in the classroom and very few students learning virtually. 

But there are some families who don't fall under the guidelines Joshua had in mind in making this decision.

"I was shocked when I heard this because it's just so important for us," said retired Deborah Baxley, a retired Joshua ISD educator who is teaching her two grandchildren through virtual learning. "We've thrived with this. We love it and we've worked with every problem and everything they've thrown at us with grace."

They were beside themselves when they received an email just before the weekend saying virtual learning would no longer be offered in the district.

Out of the roughly 5,500 students in the district, fewer than 400 were virtual students without a medical reason. It's about 7% of the student population.

Superintendent Fran Marek also looked at the very low levels of COVID-19 in school -- she reported less than 3% the entire school year.

Marek said she feels in-person learning is safe and low test scores are a reason that many of the district's virtual students need to get back in the classroom.

"Typically our district does well academically. These scores are very, very low compared to what we're used to getting this time of the year," said Marek. "We've got to get these kids in front of their teachers, getting these gaps closed."

Deborah's grandson can remain virtual as he has an active medical condition, but her granddaughter has to learn in person despite being on the honor roll and Deborah worries she could infect the family.

Two other families contacted NBC 5 with similar circumstances, students learning well virtually with no learning loss, and a family member with a medical condition at home that they worry will be impacted by this decision.

Marek promised to look at the family's cases but said the learning loss and strain on the teachers made the move necessary as a whole.

"It is our obligation. We were put here to educate our kids," said Marek.

TEA guidelines don't require schools to offer virtual learning. It's voluntary and any district can do what Joshua did and just choose not to offer it. TEA said the family is then free, without penalty, to choose another district that offers virtual classes.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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