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updated: 4/9/2013 11:04 AM

Districts U-46, 300 deny virtual charter school proposal

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  • Plans for a virtual online school being pitched to 18 suburban districts have drawn pointed questions and considerable criticism. Here, Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson told a gathering in Geneva last month how the charter school company, K12 Inc., is failing students in her state.

       Plans for a virtual online school being pitched to 18 suburban districts have drawn pointed questions and considerable criticism. Here, Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson told a gathering in Geneva last month how the charter school company, K12 Inc., is failing students in her state.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 

The school boards in Elgin Area School District U-46 and Community Unit District 300 unanimously denied a charter proposal during their meetings Monday night that would have allowed a virtual charter school to open in the coming school year.

The Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley was proposed by Virtual Learning Solutions, a nonprofit group formed specifically to open a school for students across 18 districts in the region, allowing them to learn from their home computers.

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In public hearings last month at each of the school districts involved, school board and community members were disappointed by an inability to answer questions about how the charter would work. District officials received a 1,080-page response Thursday night, weeks after the answers were due.

In both U-46 and Carpentersville-based District 300, board members voted on the charter proposal based on information from the original proposal and the public hearing, but did not take the response into account because of its tardiness.

But District 300 board member Chris Stanton said he did read some of the letter.

"I took the time to read a lot of the 1,000 pages," Stanton said. "Until I found out most of that was just rhetoric and redistributed propaganda from the organization that is selling the software."

K12 Inc. is the proposed curriculum and management company that would operate the virtual charter school. In public hearings presenting the plan, Virtual Learning Solutions board members introduced the company as the "possible" choice for a charter management organization. The follow-up information submitted to districts last week included no such qualification.

The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley is outlined in the response using K12's curriculum and expertise as its foundation.

"It is the infrastructure that K12 has to offer that will make ILVCS@FRV truly innovative," the response said.

District 300 already uses some of K12's curriculum software in its night classes, and its existing charter school -- Cambridge Lakes -- does as well. Before voting to deny the charter, board member Susie Kopacz made a distinction between K12 as a trusted curriculum company and a charter management organization that they do not want to run a school.

District 300 and U-46 board members approved similar resolutions denying the charter Monday night.

The resolutions cite issues with the proposed curriculum, instructional strategies and the "learning coach" required for all virtual charter school students.

"Requiring unpaid learning coaches will limit the types of students who will be eligible for this program to students with at least one stay at home parent or upper income students who can afford their own learning coaches," the resolutions both state. "Such a structure in practice discriminates against low-income, working and single households in violation of the requirement that charter schools be open to all students."

In public hearings, Virtual Learning Solutions representatives said the virtual school would not work for everyone. But they did stress the point that the school would be able to serve all students, including those whose primary language is not English and those with disabilities.

U-46 and District 300 officials were not convinced, including sections about both concerns in their resolutions.

Beyond the school itself, officials in both districts criticized the proposal, saying it did not come in the form of a contract, which is required by law, or provide minimum and maximum student enrollment amounts, which are also required.

A handful of other districts voted on the proposal Monday, as well, with the remaining districts expected to vote in coming weeks. The early denials ensure Virtual Learning Solutions board members will have to appeal to the state charter commission, which could vote to overturn the local decisions and allow the virtual school to enroll students this summer.

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