Virginia students soon may be able to get their public high school diploma without ever stepping inside a school.

The state Department of Education this fall will offer on a first-come basis a program offering a full-time, online high school. If the pilot, open to 100 students across the state, proves successful, officials could make the program permanent and open it to additional students.

The school will be run through the states’ Virtual Virginia online class program, which features state-approved curriculum and state-employed teachers.

Created in 2002, the online program has received national recognition and provided coursework to more than 40,000 Virginia students.

The virtual school pilot program is designed to provide students a way to receive a public high school diploma without attending traditional classes, except for certain exams. That, officials say, would open opportunities for a public education to homeschooled students and those who do not perform well in classroom environments.

“We are excited to offer this opportunity to high school students, especially those with the potential for thriving in a non-traditional instructional setting,” said Steven R. Staples, state superintendent of public instruction. “This expansion of the Virtual Virginia program provides more choice and flexibility to students seeking a high school diploma.”

Students in the pilot program will enroll through the guidance office of their local public schools but receive online instruction through Virtual Virginia. The local schools will ensure access to technology, textbooks, special services and other necessary materials at no cost to students.

Diplomas earned through the program will be issued by the local high school through which the student enrolled.

“How this will work will vary greatly from school to school and student to student, but it will have all the requirements, all of the credits and the electives to graduate with an advanced studies diploma or a standard diploma,” said Charles Pyle, state education department spokesman.

Both Charlottesville and Albemarle County school officials said they have had students successfully enrolled in Virtual Virginia courses.

Phil Giaramita, spokesman for the Albemarle public schools, said the county offers its own online courses as well as classes through Virtual Virginia. He said about 50 students take courses through the state, mostly advanced-level courses not offered in the school system.

“We’re not yet sure if there will be any interest in the county for the pilot, but certainly the trend in education is heading down this path,” Giaramita said. “But several issues have to be resolved, including course quality and teacher load.”

Courses taken via Virtual Virginia’s web-based portal include readings, discussion forums, written assignments, presentations and projects, case studies, simulations, lab assignments, models and opportunities for student collaboration, officials said.

Tests would be administered by online instructions and graded on a percentage basis with local schools awarding letter grades and credits.

Giaramita said the county has found that many students who take online courses miss traditional classes.

“Interestingly, another issue that surfaced from our offering of [online] classes is that students enrolled in the virtual course missed the social interaction with their classmates and the classroom give-and-take between students that often advanced understanding of the subject matter,” he said.

Some of that social interaction could be provided by the online students participating afterschool programs. Students enrolled online would be eligible to participate in band and on sports teams and in other groups, Pyle said.

“The student would be enrolled through the local high school and be eligible for extracurricular activities, even if all of the courses are online,” Pyle said. “The student would be a full-time public school student. The coursework could be a combination of brick-and-mortar school and virtual school or all online school with the student taking [Standards of Learning] tests at the school.”

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