Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego Unified on Friday announced via email that iHigh Virtual Academy, the district’s online school, would be closing middle and high schoolers. The abrupt notice, which came as the current school year is winding down and around three months before the start of the next school year, shocked both staff and parents of students enrolled. 

“Students entering grades 6-12 will have the option to enroll in online, self-paced Edgenuity coursework at their neighborhood cluster school. Additionally, students will have opportunities to meet with a Cluster Learning Coach (district teacher) on a weekly basis for progress monitoring, test proctoring, and/or content support,” district officials wrote in an email to parents. “We realize this may cause uncertainty about placement for your student(s) for fall 2023.” 

Officials wrote that students also have the option of returning to their neighborhood school for in-person instruction and that district staff will help with the transfer process.  

In the years prior to the pandemic, iHigh functioned primarily as an asynchronous independent study that served a couple dozen students. But when Covid led to widespread school closures, San Diego Unified poured resources into iHigh to provide students with live online classrooms and flexible instruction. In the 2021 – 2022 school year, enrollment swelled to 1,700 students.  

But this year enrollment shrunk to just under 650 students. Over half of iHigh’s current students are in grades 6-12. In an email, Maureen Magee, the district’s communications director, wrote that 562 students had enrolled in at iHigh for the next school year. 

Shavoine Bradford, the mother of an incoming sixth grader who attended iHigh, said she was shocked. She serves on the site governance team and only learned of the closure was an email was sent out on Friday

Several questions ran through her mind, she said.  

“Where is this coming from? Where’s the data to support that this is going to be the best move for our students? Where was the family input? The stakeholder input? There was none,” Bradford said. A short informational meeting the district held for parents over Zoom didn’t answer many of her questions. 

Her next thought went to the district’s priority window for school choice applications, which closed more than six months before the announcement of iHigh’s closure. That meant her family had few choices other than to enroll her son for in-person instruction at their neighborhood school or for the self-paced independent study program.  

“My student has excelled so much in the past two years, both academically and socially, because there were some activities, like field trips, and community service opportunities, and they had some great teachers that really wanted to make it a special school,” she said. 

Bradford said iHigh’s model was a good fit for families with unique needs. “To take that away with no input, no data … how can you just make this decision for so many families who really loved our unique school?” she said. 

In an email, Magee wrote that the district is actually expanding access to online learning opportunities for middle and high schoolers, in large part because of iHigh’s success. 

 “Because of the flexibility it provides as a learning option for students and families who choose it, an online learning model will now be offered to every neighborhood cluster throughout the district for grades 6-12,” Magee wrote. “District and iHigh leaders have discussed the changes with iHigh staff and families and will continue to support families with the transition and enrollment into the neighborhood self-paced online program.” 

This isn’t the first time stakeholders have felt shortchanged by how San Diego Unified has communicated big changes. A recent shakeup to the administrative makeup of the district that went virtually unacknowledged by officials also left parents and community members feeling “blindsided.” 

But parents weren’t the only ones who felt left in the lurch. Nate Walker, a teacher at iHigh, said he and his colleagues were already looking forward to next year and trying to figure out ways to improve the model when he received an email notifying staff the district was closing down iHigh. He said his heart stopped. The abrupt decision made him feel like all the work they’d done didn’t matter. 

Magee wrote that the district has not issued layoff notices to iHigh teachers, and that all current iHigh teachers will have positions in the district next year. But, like with parents of students, Walker said the timing of announcement left teachers with limited opportunities. 

He also believes students will miss out on the community developed at iHigh, which includes an active associated student body and field trips. “They may not see these people again, and they certainly won’t be able to grow with them as students anymore,” Walker said. “That’s all been lost, that’s all been ripped away from them.” Both Walker and Bradford worry the self-paced independent study model taking High’s place won’t be right for all students. 

But the worst part for Walker is how unilateral he feels this decision was. “No one asked a teacher or a parent about this change, it was just handed down suddenly,” Walker said. “They don’t want our input on what the future model will look like. They’ve made that very clear. And they don’t really care to ask us about some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. It’s just really disheartening. It doesn’t make me feel proud of my school or my district.” 

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at and followed...

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  1. Union mob fingerprints all over this one.
    What ? A cheaper and more effective model to teach?
    Kill it before it grows.

  2. My children attend this school. This school and the teachers really did make it an awesome environment for the kids to succeed. I am very sad and angry that they decided to close down so fast without any warning until the end of the school year. I do not like any of the neighbor schools so I am lost on what to do. This was so worth to do this. Should of at least gave it another year!!!!

  3. It’s probably to help pay for the 100k raise the new superintendent was given when hired. Now he make more than the president of the United States

    1. Not a good comparison, really. Lots of people make more then the potus. Haha. But yes, you are probably spot on.

  4. So sad to read this news. Online learning is the way of the future. Since after the pandemic, my company switched to remote and hybrid work schedules. If it works for companies, it definitely should work for students. My child used to attend iHigh but we saw the writing on the wall early in the year. We looked around and we found Launch Virtual Academy and we have been surprised by the quality of their services. Yes, it is also a public online school, not another ridiculous charter.

  5. Our country had the perfect opportunity to fix a largely broken education system. But they chose to try to remain as much the same as possible.

    At the local level, this is just another way in which the second largest district in the state is one of the largest pieces of …

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