ANTIOCH, Calif. (KRON) — Students in an East Bay school district are back in class this week for the start of the new school year.

KRON4’s Haaziq Madyun reports a growing number of those students chose to enroll in a virtual academy as the pandemic continues.

The new school year began this week for students in the Antioch Unified School District. While the vast majority of the district’s 16,000 students are returning to real classrooms for in-person instruction, a significant number of students opted instead for distance learning through the Thomas Gaines Virtual Academy.

“Enrollment is increasing by the day,” Antioch Unified School District associate superintendent Christine Ibarra said.

“We started at the end of last week, I want to say around 300 students overall,” Ibarra said. “We are now 600 students.”

Fast approaching 700 for virtual enrollment.

That includes students from other school districts in Contra Costa County including Mt. Diablo Unified, Oakley, Brentwood, and Knightsen.

The Thomas Gaines Virtual Academy is available for transitional kindergarten through 8th grade and prospects virtual independent study for high school students. Laptops and other school supplies are readily available for students.

Ibarra says this educational effort was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, Antioch’s study appears to be here to stay.

“We heard what our parents and teachers were saying and our students and we thought we would like to continue to provide this option,” Ibarra said. “Plus we understood that there were probably going to be some families for which they weren’t ready to bring their students back this year, and that was another way to accommodate those families and their needs.”