Summit School District considers third-party platform for remote learning, but some parents are not sold

KEYSTONE — As the school year approaches, Summit School District parents and students are facing a tough decision: go to school in person and risk exposure to the novel coronavirus or do school entirely online and be disconnected from friends and teachers. 

Although the district has decided on a hybrid model for the new school year, it is still working on an official plan for students who want to go 100% online. Right now, that plan is Edgenuity, an online learning platform that the district has used with high school students in the past. 

Students who choose to enroll in the hybrid model won’t be using Edgenuity on their online days. Instead they will receive instruction from their Summit teachers via Google Classroom.

Although it is the only plan the district has presented to the public, the district has not officially signed a contract with Edgenuity. Chief Financial Officer Kara Drake would not say how much the program costs because the district is still in negotiations. The district plans to pay for the program with coronavirus relief funds from the federal government.

According to Edsurge, an education news organization, Edgenuity costs anywhere from $350 to $1,000 per student. The district does not yet know how many students will opt in for the remote option.

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, Edgenuity representatives Cara Wilkinson and Chet Riddle presented the platform to parents. The platform allows students to learn in a self-paced online environment while having access to Edgenuity teachers, who will grade and answer questions. 

If the district decides to go with Edgenuity for the remote-learning option, it will be available to students at all grade levels. While some high and middle school students might be used to Edgenuity’s course offerings, the elementary program is new, Riddle said. 

“This curriculum is built from the ground up with an elementary student that is going to be working 100% virtually in mind,” Riddle said.

Students who go remote would log into Edgenuity every day to watch instructional videos, complete activities and receive feedback from their teachers. While the course offerings don’t exactly align with those at Summit schools, they are all taught by Colorado-certified teachers. 

Edgenuity representative Chet Riddle walks parents through a sample elementary math lesson at an informational Zoom meeting Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Screenshot from Summit School District presentation on Edgenuity

For some parents, the lack of connection between the Summit School District and the students who use Edgenuity is a big concern. 

“We did not understand that our children would not be part of the community of the school,” Hank Wiethake — the parent of an elementary, middle and high school student — said in an interview. “We thought that it would be the teachers from Summit School District teaching our children not Edgenuity.”

Riddle and Wilkinson said Edgenuity teachers would be available to answers questions within 24 hours, and they will grade assignments within one to three days. The ratio for students to teachers if 55-to-1, Wilkinson said. 

“One of the reasons Summit is considering talking to us today … is the teachers they have already on staff are going to be working with those in-classroom students,” Wilkinson said. “It just would not be fair to your kids that are needing to be fully virtual to ask that in-classroom teacher to also serve the virtual student.”

Hank Wiethake and his wife, Erin Wiethake, are considering the remote option for their three students out of concern for safety. Erin Wiethake said she felt the school’s plan to have students at the middle and high school levels attend on alternate days doesn’t allow for enough cleaning and sanitization. 

“I would personally feel potentially better about the blended program if it was two consecutive days in a row,” she said. “I feel them doing alternating days opens up an opportunity for more contamination and not as much sanitation.”

With children at every school level, the family is also concerned about scheduling and transportation. Under the hybrid model, their elementary student would be going four days a week while their middle and high school students would be going to school Tuesdays and Fridays.

Other parents are worried about Edgenuity’s ability to keep students focused and prevent cheating. A 2015 study from, a nonprofit dedicated to education accountability, reported that the program did not meet common core standards for math for middle school students. 

One parent said she’s read that answers to Edgenuity tests and quizzes are already available online. Riddle said Edgenuity works to remove any test answers from the internet as fast as possible to prevent cheating.

While the Wiethakes appreciate the work the district is putting into finding a solution, they aren’t sure what decision they will ultimately make.

“If we’re going to do online learning, there should be a teacher at the school that kids can talk to,” Hank Wiethake said. “It shouldn’t be a teacher somewhere in Colorado without a connection to Summit County. There should be a way that these kids can connect with one another outside of parents putting it together in an online community.”