An online academy associated with a southwest Iowa school district has seen a significant increase in interest from parents exploring education options during the pandemic. Dr. James Brauer is the principal of the Iowa Connections Academy, one of two “virtual” public schools in the state. He says in July alone, 300 applications were submitted for K-through-12 students living in other districts around the state.

“That’s something, of course, that has never happened before in previous school years,” he says. “In total right now our actual enrollment numbers are up about 80% from this time last year…While it’s so difficult to determine if families will pursue the actual enrollment process, we’re looking at a significant increase.” School starts August 24th. Parents who’ve submitted an application have until then to decide whether their child will attend school in their local district or use the state’s “open enrollment option” to take Iowa Connections Academy courses online. Brauer isn’t expecting every applicant to enroll. He says students, parents and educators throughout the state did the best they could last spring when remote learning was the “crisis scenario,” but they’ve had more time to prepare for that as an option this fall.

“Some families, I think, submitted open enrollment applications almost as something to tuck into their back pocket as an option,” he says, “and they’ll make a decision as they get closer to the first day of school as they evaluate their local district’s ‘Return to Learn’ plans.” At the end of the last school year, the Iowa Connections Academy had 530 students.

“Students can access their coursework any time, any place, anywhere while also working with one of our 20-plus teachers,” Brauer says. Brauer says parents are grappling with circumstances that are difficult to navigate in the midst of a pandemic.

“On the one hand, I certainly want to advocate for this model and I want to ensure families are making proper decisions. Every student’s learning needs are so different and the online model is not a one-size-fits-all,” Brauer says. “As our staff continues to work with families to help them make that right decision, you can easily and very quickly pick up up this sense of fear and anxiety and trepidation.” The Iowa Connections Academy adheres to the grade level and high school graduation requirements of the CAM Community School District in Anita. The state’s other all online public school is the Iowa Virtual Academy, a program of the Clayton Ridge Community School District in Guttenberg. Radio Iowa has been unable to connect with the head of school at the Iowa Virtual Academy.