A weekend interview with virtual education petitioner Jessica Howard
Jessica Howard, 7, has received schooling from her mom, Wendy, in her Pasco County home for the past year. When the family looked into using the state's new K-8 virtual school program to supplement its curriculum, it learned that wasn't an option. State law requires that children sit in a public school classroom the year before enrolling in the online courses. So Jessica is petitioning to change the law. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her effort.
What is it exactly that you want lawmakers to do?
I want them to change a portion of House Bill 7067.
What is House Bill 7067?
It provides virtual school. But it says I have to go to public school for a year to be able to do this program. So we're trying to change the law so it does not discriminate against me and other kids who are coming out of private or home school.
Why do you want to do virtual schooling?
Because it has the online teacher to help.
Why is that important to you?
Because if my mom didn't know something in the curriculum or I didn't know it either, we could ask some other teacher.
Are there certain reasons why you don't want to go to Trinity Elementary, which is near your home?
Because I won't get to see my dad that often, and I won't get to go to my family's birthdays or special occasions with them. And I won't get to see my sister that often because she goes to bed early. I just want to spend more time with my family.
What have you been doing to get the law changed?
We've been asking people for their signatures, and we've been sending letters to (lawmakers). I just got a letter back from Mike Fasano.
What did he say?
He said that we're doing great and they're going to have a meeting about it soon.
Have you spoken with any other lawmakers?
Rachel Burgin. She e-mailed back. She supported us 100 percent. She was also home-schooled, too.
Are you planning to go up to Tallahassee and talk to lawmakers there? Or what's your next step?
Ummm, well, it's kind of up to my mom.
What would you like to do?
I would like to go up to their office.
What would you tell the lawmakers if you were sitting with them face to face?
I would say, Can you please help us change the law. ... We would want it to be so if my mom and dad, or somebody who paid taxes and they were in private school, they would just be able to right in it. It would be fair for all the kids.
This is a good lesson for you, isn't it? Are you learning about a lot more than virtual education?
Mmm-hmm. I'm learning some new words, like discriminate. ... And that a law can actually be changed.
Do you think this is something you are going to win?
Definitely. Because we keep and keep bugging them.