Family pulls daughter from TN Virtual Academy, shares story
LENOIR CITY - As Tennessee Virtual Academy faces the threat of closure, one Lenoir City family explains why they pulled their daughter earlier this year from the online school.

Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) is an online public school based in Union County. It serves some 1,300 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students throughout the state.

TNVA has been under fire the past year. Kevin Huffman, while Tennessee Department of Education commissioner, threatened to close it due to low academic performance, and current Commissioner Candice McQueen affirmed that decision when she stepped into the role earlier this year.

The school has averaged a Level 1, which is low, on TCAP tests for the past three years. Huffman told school officials they need to improve to a Level 3 within one school year or else TNVA will be shut down.

Lenoir City mom Marissa Alexander said her 9-year-old daughter Hailey flourished at TNVA the past three years, but changes the school made this year to meet those high standards have hurt her daughter's education.

"We absolutely loved it. It was great," Alexander explained. "The basic classes weren't (challenging enough for Hailey), so they had her skip a grade and they had her do more challenging work, and they kind of customized things and worked with us."

Hailey has reactive airway disease. She can't be around other kids in a traditional classroom setting, Alexander said, so an online school fit this family's needs, and Hailey excelled in that setting.

That's why when Huffman and the Tennessee Department of Education threatened to close TNVA, the Alexanders fought to keep it open.

Now, however, Alexander has changed her tune.

"The online teachers that used to be really compassionate and caring and wanted to be driven towards the child's success were only about the numbers and preparing for the TCAPs," she said.

Hailey finished all of her fourth grade curriculum by the end of December, Alexander said, and the school wouldn't let her advance.

"The teachers have been stressing us with the TCAPs," Hailey said.

"Some teachers have either given up already that the school's going to close," Alexander said. "Then the other ones were overly strict, just trying to meet the standard and keep the schools open and all that, because they were feeling all the pressure on them."

That's why Alexander pulled Hailey from TNVA in January. She's homeschooling Hailey, while the family's other child - 5-year-old Lexi - still attends kindergarten at TNVA. Alexander said the family can only afford to privately home school one child right now.

Through all of this, Alexander said she doesn't blame TNVA.

"I mean, it all started with Huffman and his ridiculous standards," Alexander said.

Since TCAP results won't be available until June, Union County Director of Schools Jimmy Carter said, many TNVA teachers and students may already have to be finding another school by then, regardless of whether the school is allowed to continue operating.