The Maryland Department of Education plans to open an online high school next year that could help solve teacher shortages and enhance every district’s course offerings, department officials say.

The Maryland Virtual Learning Community is expected to open in the fall of 2002 with 350 virtual “seats,” said Elizabeth Glowa, coordinator of the state’s web-based learning program.

Initially, officials hope to offer physics, calculus, and 11th-grade English, as well as Advanced Placement calculus, macroeconomics, U.S. government, literature, and composition, Glowa said. She said many districts lack either enough teachers or enough demand to justify offering those courses in individual high schools.

The statewide online high school would synchronize individual districts’ efforts, providing a cost-effective program.

“One teacher can teach class to students at other schools online or at home,” education department spokesman Ron Peiffer said.

Glowa said the project’s goals include reaching out to homebound and hospitalized students, but she said that population is tiny compared with those who attend school but want or need classes the school isn’t equipped to offer. Most of the online classes would be taken at school, she said.

Glowa said online classes are offered in high schools in 26 states. “It’s not up-and-coming, it’s here,” she said.