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Schools virtual learning program could be shut down

By Tolly Taylor

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    BALTIMORE (WBAL) — Parents of students in a Baltimore City Public Schools virtual learning program recently learned their program could be shut down.

The main reason — millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funding will soon expire.

Parents said the virtual school created a space for kids who don’t do well with in-person schooling to thrive.

Journey Jeffries is a fourth-grader. Her mother said because she is immuno-compromised, going to school in-person made her get sick more often. Thanks to virtual learning, she’s back on track.

But a robocall came from City Schools a few days after Thanksgiving notifying parents that CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises was recommending changes for the 137 students enrolled in the Charm City Virtual Elementary Program.

“This means the Elementary Program at Charm City VLP will close at the end of the school year,” the call said.

“Once we received the recording, we just felt like it was a lack of transparency and we felt like the families didn’t have a voice,” Ahsha Jeffries said.

Her daughter has a chronic lung disease. She was hospitalized 10 times while attending school in person, Ahsha Jeffries said.

“Since then, she’s only been hospitalized once in the last three years,” she said. “Dr. Santelises, the Charm City Virtual Program is not a luxury for our kids. It’s actually a necessity. Invest in our children’s future. Our children need the unwavering support, consistency and stability.”

Parents put together a YouTube video explaining why the district should make the program permanent.

As 11 News Investigates reported in November, billions of dollars in expiring COVID-19 funds are forcing school districts nationwide to make difficult budget decisions.

“There’s going to be a cliff. Districts are going to have to get used to not having those federal relief dollars,” Georgetown University professor Marguerite Roza said.

City Schools has until September to spend $443 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding, but then it’s gone.

In November, 11 News Investigates asked Santelises if programs funded with COVID-19 dollars could be cut.

“I think some of those, we will,” she said.

Parent Kathleen Lea said Charm City Virtual offered her two kids the opportunity to leave bad environments in their classrooms and focus on learning in their bedrooms.

“Why throw money at things that don’t work? I’m telling you, this program works,” Lea said. “Spend money on Charm City Virtual, because it matters to the children. It matters to the families who support their children.”

Thursday at 6:30 p.m., the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners will meet and focus on the program. They will also offer a public comment portion.

Parents 11 News Investigates spoke with said they will be there.

A City Schools spokesperson said in a statement, “City Schools recognizes the potential of virtual learning and hopes to continue offering a high quality full-time virtual learning opportunity for secondary students that can be sustained beyond (the federal funds).”

The board will vote on whether to close the virtual elementary program on Jan. 23.

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