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On Tuesday, the Missouri Board of Education recognized the frustrations that parents seeking quality virtual education have faced for the past year and approved a rule change that will require school districts to give families seeking to enroll in virtual education programs through the MOCAP program a decision within ten days. If a district does not make a decision within that time frame a student’s application to enroll in a virtual education program will be automatically approved.
Previously there had been no time limit for districts to offer a decision, resulting in a number of districts, including St. Louis Public Schools, preventing student enrollment in virtual education by simply ignoring applications from parents indefinitely.
These practices resulted in several lawsuits and a Joint Committee on Education hearing focused on the issue last month.
Tuesday’s decision was a welcome change in the battle for parent control over their child’s education, especially since DESE listened to parent concerns and changed their original recommendation of requiring a decision within 30 days to the 10-day requirement in the final rule.
Assistant Commissioner Chris Neal pointed out that districts had requested the decision process be extended to 30 business days while parents had asked for it to be “be shortened to as short as three days or eliminate entirely any decision-making authority on the part of our school districts.”
But even though the new rule is a major improvement over the existing requirements, there are still important changes needed in Missouri’s virtual education law to ensure that families have control over their children’s education.
Even as Neal was telling the board that DESE’s decision process was based on what was best for the student, parents were sharing their difficulties enrolling in virtual education in the chat of the live stream of the meeting.
“Let parents choose what’s in their child’s best interest. District’s have too much say and power when deciding how long the process is,” wrote one parent who has had their application to enroll in MOCAP denied twice by their district and is now appealing to DESE. “I think that it should be up to the parents on what is in their child’s best interest. We shouldn’t have to go through all this. My daughter was approved in virtual until we moved here and shocked to learn what we had to go through. None of this is fair to the families giving more control to the districts.”
“Parents should be allowed to choose the online program of their choice,” wrote another parent. “The district shouldn’t legally have this much control.”
As these parents correctly pointed out the current law, which requires approval from a school district before a child can enroll in a MOCAP program that has already been approved by the state still allows school districts too much control over the process.
Last month, Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven revealed that districts had told her they will break the law, and Board of Education President Charlie Shields pointed out districts have a financial conflict of interest in making approvals.
Despite the new 10-day decision timeline, if a district chooses to deny a student’s application then the family must appeal that decision to the local school board which has 30 days to issue a decision. If the school board chooses to deny the enrollment request then the family can appeal it to DESE which then has an additional 7 days to issue a decision.
So if a family applies for the program at the beginning of the school year, they could still have to wait for over a month and a half to get a final decision, putting their students unfairly far behind.