— FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama educators have long known that online classes provide experience and preparation students need for life after high school, either for college or the workforce.
But the state has never done much more than suggest schools implement them in the curriculum, until now. Under the state's new diploma requirements, which go into effect this fall and begin with incoming ninth-graders, there's a required college and career preparedness course that incorporates computer applications.
Though Alabama schools have discretion as to how to implement that part of the career preparedness course, online classes will likely become more commonplace, according to Alabama Department of Education officials.
"In the past, it was suggested that schools encourage that online (course) experience because in today's world it is needed, but it wasn't an actual mandate," said Malissa Valdes-Hubert, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education. "We just left it up to schools to recognize the need and incorporate it into their curriculums. But now it's a firm part of the college and career preparedness course."
While area high schools don't require online courses for graduation, there's interest in making those options readily available to students.
Online courses have been a trend in the Southeast for more than a decade.
According to data collected by the Southern Regional Education Board, it's so popular among the 16 Southern states that 15 of them have sponsored a state-run virtual school, with 11 of them having done so for six years or more. Alabama is among those with the ACCESS program, which equips schools with computer labs to accommodate online learning.
But with the interest in state-run virtual schools waning, the number of local school districts providing online courses is increasing.
This fall Florence High School will join those ranks as it begins the Florence Virtual School, with numerous online course offerings across the curriculum.