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Appeals court: Online charter school is operating illegally

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Associated Press
December 5, 2007
— A Wisconsin charter school that operates over the Internet violated state law by allowing parents to assume the duties of state-licensed teachers, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The Wisconsin Virtual Academy also has been violating a law requiring charter schools to be located in district that operates them and open-enrollment students to attend school in the district, the District 2 Court of Appeals ruled.


As a result, the court said the Department of Public Instruction must stop shifting payments to the school from the home districts of the majority of its more than 600 students.


If the ruling is not overturned by the state Supreme Court or nullified by the Legislature, it could shut down or drastically scale back what supporters call an innovative new way to educate children in Wisconsin.


Supporters of virtual schools say they are more effective for some students and far less expensive than traditional public schools. Critics dispute that.


The Northern Ozaukee School District created the virtual school in 2003. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade learn from their homes over the Internet under the direction of their parents, who must devote at least four hours a day to their child’s education. Certified teachers who work for the district help monitor students’ progress.


A judge last year dismissed the legal challenge by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teacher’s union. Afterward, the district announced plans to expand its online offerings by creating a new virtual high school open statewide.


But the appeals court reversed the judge’s decision and agreed with the teacher’s union that the district’s operation of the school violates the open-enrollment, charter school, and teacher licensing laws.


Writing for the court, Judge Richard Brown said the school may be a “godsend for children who would not succeed in more traditional public schools, as well as a welcome new option for parents who want their children to receive a home-based education.


“But it is also a public school operated with state funds, and its operation violates the statutes as they now stand,” he wrote.


Brown said parents are acting as teachers in a public school without the required license from the Department of Public Instruction.


“The problem is not that the unlicensed WIVA parents teach their children, but that they ’teach in a public school,”’ Brown wrote.


He also said Northern Ozaukee is violating a law that prohibits school districts from operating charter schools outside of their boundaries. The school’s administrative office is in the district but the majority of its teachers and students are not, he wrote.


Northern Ozaukee also illegally received open-enrollment money for students even though they are not attending school in the district, he wrote.



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