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updated: 3/20/2013 8:18 PM

District 300 leaders grill online charter school reps

Dist. 300 gets few answers on plan

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Editors note: this story was changed to reflect the correct last name of the District 300 school board president, which is Miller.

Students would get a computer, monitor and printer if they don't already have one. They'd get materials, books, supplies, access to online courses and progress tools as well as reimbursement for an Internet connection if they meet financial eligibility requirements.

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If the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley opens in August, its students would be expected to log in to their computers for lessons, homeroom, labs and meetings with other students and teachers all working remotely. Each student would need a "learning coach" -- a parent or guardian -- to help him or her stay on task.

The broad concept is clear: The proposal is for an online charter school that would give students in grades kindergarten through 12 the opportunity to complete courses from home. But representatives for Virtual Learning Solutions, the nonprofit requesting a charter, and K12 Inc., the curriculum company expected to manage the school, are coming up short on details in public hearings across the Fox Valley.

Community Unit District 300 is one of 18 districts that received the charter proposal in February. Board of education members considered the application Tuesday during a public hearing and continued their discussion in closed session.

Board members and administrators spent nearly three hours grilling charter school board Secretary Ted Dabrowski and K12 school development manager Seth McKinzie, often receiving responses of "I don't know" and "We'll get back to you."

Shelley Nacke, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, had 33 questions about how the charter school would handle special education alone. Nacke merely read her questions out loud to get them into the public record once representatives made clear they wouldn't be able to answer any of them.

"As you can see our staff put a great deal of time into preparing for this meeting," said board President Anne Miller, adding she was disappointed the courtesy did not seem to be returned by the charter school representatives.

The board is expected to make a final decision about the charter in writing April 8.

District 300 already has a connection to K12 -- the online learning company already operates in Cambridge Lakes and for the district's night school. But board member Chris Stanton said previous success by K12 does not mean a charter school run entirely by K12 for all its course offerings for students across 18 different Fox Valley districts would work.

Major questions raised by District 300 board and staff members include how students will succeed when returning to a standard classroom after a virtual learning setting as well as whether the district would even be able to approve a charter, legally, with Cambridge Lakes Charter School already in existence.

The state school code limits the number of charter schools outside of Chicago to 45 with "not more than one charter school ... operating at any one time in the school district where the charter school is located."

Board members referred to Cambridge Lakes and the process through which they approved its charter multiple times Tuesday. Cambridge Lakes representatives, they said, had a much more detailed plan in place before applying.

Board members have the option of approving the charter, denying it or sending it to a state charter commission for a decision. If they deny it, McKinzie said the group already plans to appeal to the commission. District legal counsel Brian Crowley said if the districts deny the charter but the state commission approves it, money per student would still come from the district, but it would have no control over the operations of the charter.

"People feel like this is going to get crammed down our throat," Stanton said.

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