A Fulton area family has sued the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Fulton School District for the right to access a full-time virtual education program as provided for by Missouri law.
The family filed suit on Monday, after being denied access to the Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA), a virtual education program provided by the Grandview RII School District. MOVA meets all of the requirements to be considered a Missouri Course Access Program (MOCAP) provider for Missouri students.
The suit alleges that the family was told that the Fulton School District “don’t use other district’s online curriculum” which is a clear violation of the virtual education course access law that took effect in August 2018.
According to the suit, the district later revised its response after conferring with DESE to claim that the MOVA program was not a valid MOCAP program, an assertation that is fundamentally untrue based on the new law.
DESE doubled down on this false assertion in an email sent to all Missouri school administrators on June 21, 2019.
In the email, penned by Assistant Commissioner of Education Chris Neale, the department claims that only eight providers can qualify as MOCAP programs and that while school districts can choose to offer courses from other districts or providers, parents have no legal right to request those courses.
This determination is clearly the opposite of both the letter and the spirit of the new law.
According to the new law, “Any online course or virtual program offered by a school district …shall be automatically approved to participate in the Missouri course access and virtual school program.”
Additionally, the law grandfathers in virtual programs that had been offered in the past, as Grandview has done with its virtual program for a number of years.
A representative for MOCAP said last week that the reason MOVA is not considered a MOCAP program is that there is conflicting language in the law which requires additional qualifications including a payment system and cybersecurity measures and that in order to meet these requirements a district like Grandview must still apply to DESE for final approval.
But that is not what the law says.
The law clearly states that certifying those requirements have been met is the responsibility of the district, not DESE.
Additionally, the suit points out that DESE has not had a problem with the program offered by Grandview in previous years, approving both course credit and payments for the courses offered virtually.
By codifying a limited set of qualified providers, which clearly excludes providers that have a legal right to to be considered a MOCAP provider, DESE is setting up a barrier that prevents parents and students from accesses virtual course work that fits their needs.
The law clearly states that districts shall allow students to enroll in a virtual course of their choice and that virtual education shall be available to all students in grades K-12.
But not a single course for K-5 students has been listed as an approved MOCAP course, despite the fact that providers like MOVA have a wide variety of options open for K-5 students.
DESE’s limitations on providers has effectively disenfranchised every K-5 student in Missouri, blocking them from access to the benefits of virtual education that are available to students in grades 6-12.
The new virtual education law is very clear that DESE is responsible for providing multiple opportunities for vendors to apply to offer courses through the MOCAP program.
To date, DESE has only offered one RFP opportunity for vendors from Nov. 27 until Dec. 13, 2018 (less than three weeks). Not a single opportunity has been offered so far in 2019.
A spokesman for MOCAP said the department is working on a second round RFP’s but noted that the department had not yet decided on the language and could not provide a timeline for when the RFP process would open.
A MOCAP representative said last week that they hope to have additional providers by January 2020, a year and a half after the program became law.
According to the law EVERY district and charter school in the state is supposed to be actively working to make sure their students know about these options. The law states that: “Availability of the program shall be made clear in the parent handbook, registration documents, and featured on the home page of the school district or charter school’s website.”
Sadly this does not seem to be happening, leaving many families in the dark when it comes to the opportunities they have.
A quick review of the home pages of the school districts in the St. Louis City/County region shows that not a single district is featuring the ability for students to access virtual education on their home page.
It is time for the districts and DESE to stop blocking student’s legal rights to access virtual education in Missouri.