Motivations among Special Education Students and their Parents for Switching to an Online School: Survey Responses and Emergent Themes




K-12, Digital Learning, Special Education, school choice


Research focusing on the experiences of special education students in online K–12 schools is scant despite growing numbers of enrollments. This study utilized an emailed survey to understand the motivations and experiences of a group of special education students (n = 30) and their parents (n = 29) while enrolled in an online K–12 school in the U.S. Responses indicated that the three most compelling reasons for choosing the school were flexibility, previous poor fit, and teacher availability. Qualitative analysis of open-ended responses produced two major themes—prior experiences and affordances of the learning environment—with sub-themes related to bullying, personnel, academics, disabilities and accommodations, health considerations, lack of support, self-determination, and the where, when, and how of online learning. These findings may help policy makers enact policies and online educators adapt their approach to better meet the needs of K–12 students with special needs.

Author Biographies

DeLaina Tonks, Mountain Heights Academy

Dr. Tonks is the principal at Mountain Heights Academy, an online, public charter school serving 1300 students in grades 7-12 in Utah. She holds a PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University, her initial alma mater, where she also earned a BA in French and Spanish Teaching. She also has a Master of Arts in Linguistings/Second Language Acquisition from the Ohio State University.

Royce Kimmons, Brigham Young University

Dr. Kimmons is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University where he studies technology integration in K-12/higher education, open education, and social media.


Stacie L. Mason, Brigham Young University

Stacie L. Mason, PhD, is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University's doctoral program in Instructional Psychology & Technology. She works as an adjunct university instructor and educational consultant.


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