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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 2, 201112:00 PM EST

Virtual classes go from optional to mandatory

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A new state law that requires Florida high school students to take a class online is causing cash-strapped school districts to spend millions on new computers.

It caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which said Thursday it is calling on school districts to ensure that students who do not have Internet access at home aren’t at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to take online courses.

“We are concerned about issues of access,” said ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson. “There is a digital divide in this country and Internet access is limited by economic means.”

The new law requires entering high school freshman beginning this year to take at least one course online prior to graduation. School districts say to meet this new requirement means spending money on new computer labs so that students who do not have the Internet at home are able to take online courses.

“This could be considered an unfunded mandate,” said Chris McGuire, the principal of Broward Virtual School.

While most schools already have computer labs, McGuire said, the new law could force districts to buy additional computers and set up more labs for students that can only take the class while on campus.

“We don’t have a good indication of how many students have Internet access at home,” McGuire said, so districts have to estimate how many students will want to use a computer on campus during school hours.

Marilyn Myers, the principal of Duval Virtual Instruction Academy, said there will be a “capital cost” for districts.

She estimated the cost of retrofitting a classroom into a computer lab is between $30,000 and $50,000 and that almost every middle and high school in the Duval County School District would need an additional lab.

“As principal of a virtual school, I am a big supporter of it,” Myers said.

She said it prepares students for taking online courses in college. It’s a step in the right direction,” Myers said.

Pam McAuley, the manager of instructional programs at the Hillsborough County School District, said the new requirement would place a burden on already crowded computer lab space.

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