Lenoir City Board of Education discussed again Thursday the possibility of opening a K-12 virtual school with its own school number through the existing The iLearn Institute.

Board members discussed the possibility a few months ago.

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, and Chris Smallen, Lenoir City Schools chief technology officer, are ready to apply for the school number pending board approval.

Barker said LCS has been learning how to navigate the virtual school setting for four years and is ready to take the leap.

“One of the things we’ve learned over time, particularly with this year and the pandemic, is that virtual learning is a real option for a lot of families,” Barker said. “But we want to make sure we have a quality option and one that is done the right way. … I foresee virtual learning being an option that is going to be out there from now on. We have looked at the possibility of moving our iLearn Institute into its own school number, meaning that would indeed be a standalone school of its own number of the school district. That would make our school district having four schools instead of three in essence.”

Barker and Smallen presented the board with a prepared application to be sent to the Tennessee Department of Education.

The application consists of 14 questions relating to procedures, which will all come directly from the board’s existing policies.

Smallen said the virtual school would require 22 credits for graduation, which is typical for most virtual schools across the state.

Board member Matthew Coleman asked if the diploma would come from iLearn.

“That would make it a difference,” Barker said. “It would be a K-12 school, standalone. And yes, the diploma would be an iLearn diploma. They would have their own handbook for parents, their own disciplinary procedures. Of course, they would all follow board policies, but it would be a standalone diploma from iLearn Institute.”

Smallen said virtual schools are in high demand. Having a school number would help retain students who are leaving the district for other international or state virtual schools.

Hopes are to make the school as interactive as possible.

“Those are a lot of conversations Dr. Barker and I have had,” Smallen said. “I want to make this as real as possible. We want to look at bringing kids in for field trips, industry trips when COVID clears up, those types of things. Our elementary school students even having a hybrid where they’re not only doing live meet sessions throughout the week with their teacher as well as doing asynchronous learning through a computer program, but we want to bring them in and do science experiments with them, fun activities, let them interact with each other, that entire social/emotional spectrum that we need to think about with virtual school.”

The school would maintain accountability with TDOE in regard to test scores and grade-point averages, Smallen said.

Coleman asked if virtual students would be allowed to participate in sports.

Chip Orr, Lenoir City High School principal, said a co-op could be possible. He will encourage students who want to participate in sports to go to school in person unless there are “extenuating circumstances,” he said.

Smallen hopes to begin with 200 students.

“If we get past this pandemic and people decide this is not going to be something that they would select, if we get to that point where we don’t have students signing up, we simply close the school,” Barker said. “… It’s just like if you were out in another school system and you had a community that was no longer able to support a school, you just close the school.”

The board will vote Feb. 11 to approve the application for the school number.