Despite confusing guidance from Missouri Course Access Progam (MOCAP) staff, MOCAP Coordinator John Robertson confirmed this week that students who meet the requirements of the new virtual education law can ask their districts to enroll them in free virtual classes as soon as the law goes into effect on August 29.
Robertson said that in order to qualify for the new program students would have to have been enrolled full time in their district school for the previous semester and that the new law would only cover the costs of virtual classes if the student did not already have a full schedule (defined as being enrolled in six periods in a six-period day).
“If a student already has a full schedule then additional courses would be parent pay,” said Robertson. “In order for the district to pay it has to be part of the schedule of a full day. But if you have a hole in your schedule then yes, you can go and talk to your counselor about enroling in a virtual class after the law goes into effect.”
Currently, DESE has only approved virtual courses for high school students through the Mizzou K-12 program as a result of last minute changes in the law before its passage in May.
“It is going to take some time to build up a bank of courses,” said Robertson, adding that he hopes that as more providers are approved a full K-12 offering of courses will become available, possibly as soon as the spring semester.
If students are denied their request to enroll in a virtual course after the new law goes into effect, Robertson said they would have the right to go through a due process appeals process.
“You appeal in writing to the district,” he said. “The district then must notify you in writing what the good cause for denying enrollment is. Then if you want to appeal the administrator’s decision you can appeal it to the school board and that is kind of like a public hearing. Then you can appeal the decision of the local board to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and their decision is final.”
Robertson said DESE was not developing any specific criteria for determinations in the final appeals process because the intent was to take each appeal on a case by case basis.
“The standard is what is in the best educational interest of the child,” he said.
Robertson said that while students have access to the benefits of the new law as soon as it goes into effect, districts across the state are still in the process of developing enrollment policies and he encouraged parents and students to be patient during that process.
“My advice to districts is that when you develop a policy you had better invovle your attorney,” he said.
Robertson added that while he suspected organizations like the Missouri School Board Association and insurance liability carriers would be suggesting policy language for districts across the state, each district would develop its own policy and the result is that there could be over 500 different policies across the state.
The new law requires that : “Each school district or charter school shall adopt a policy that delineates the process by which a student may enroll in courses provided by the Missouri course access and virtual school program that is substantially similar to the typical process by which a district student would enroll in courses offered by the school district and a charter school student would enroll in courses offered by the charter school.”
“That should tell something about how to write their policies,” said Robertson.
Robertson said that if any parent or district had difficulties enrolling students in virtual courses this fall that they should contact MOCAP for assistance.
They should call us and we will try to help,” he said, adding that MOCAP has been working to get the news about the new law out to districts and even talking to civic groups to try to reach parents directly.
Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (573) 751-2453.