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updated: 5/16/2013 5:35 AM

State panel won't consolidate 18 virtual school appeals

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Administrators, district attorneys, school board members, union representatives and community members packed the meeting Wednesday of the Illinois State Charter School Commission in Chicago to argue against the proposed appeal process for a virtual charter school -- and won.

Virtual Learning Solutions submitted an application to 18 school districts from Algonquin to Plainfield in February and, after the rejection by every single school board, filed 18 appeals with the state commission this month asking they be consolidated into a single appeal. In a recommendation to commissioners that school district officials received copies of Tuesday, Chairman Greg Richmond said consolidation would be appropriate.

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Elisa Westapher, an attorney representing Virtual Learning Solutions, was the lone voice out of more than a dozen speakers who agreed.

"Virtual Learning Solutions provided the same charter application to all 18 school districts," Westapher reminded commissioners. "We are requesting one charter for one charter school, not 18 charters for 18 charter schools."

More than a dozen people spoke out against consolidation, however, arguing for individual attention to the unique circumstances in each district.

Respicio Vazquez, an attorney representing U-46 as well as districts in Plainfield, Wheaton and the Carpentersville area, drew commissioners' attention to the different student body demographics and sizes, budgetary realities and programmatic needs that caused each district to independently decide to reject the charter school proposal.

He argued that the applicants created their own problems by submitting an unmanageable proposal and shouldn't be allowed to condense it during the appeal. Vazquez said the consolidation would disregard due process rights of each school district.

Richmond's defense of consolidation in his initial note to commissioners said that absent it, Virtual Learning Solutions would be required to file multiple sets of paperwork and the commission would have to set 18 separate hearings, straining public resources to review the proposal.

Bob Kling, a Bartlett High School teacher and member of the board of directors for the Elgin Teachers Association, took issue with the rationale.

"In reading your decision ... I see no reference to the best interests of students," Kling said. "I see reference to what works for you, the commission, as adults."

After public comment, commissioners went into a lengthy closed session that was not on the meeting agenda, returning to announce some changes to the appeal timeline.

Each district will get its own public hearing but not necessarily within its boundaries. The hearings are scheduled for June 19, 20, 21 and 24 at locations yet to be decided.

"From a practical standpoint we cannot spread that out to 18 separate days," Richmond said. "We are required by law to take action within 75 days. We can't change that."

In the meantime, school districts will be able to submit responses to Virtual Learning Solutions' appeals, to which the applicant will have one last chance to reply.

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