Inaction By ODE Puts Students Future At Risk

 Reynoldsburg City Schools Forced To Call Emergency Meeting

 By John Corrigan


(REYNOLDSBURG) The future of Reynoldsburg City School’s online e-school, Virtual Community School of Ohio (VCS) is in jeopardy with no clear direction as to its future, due to inaction at the June 12, 2017 Meeting of the State Board of Education.  Reynoldsburg City Schools called a special meeting for Thursday June 15, 2017 at 5:00 address the situation

VCS Ohio has multiple issues that require State Department of Education action. The first issue involves, VCS’ inability to document student participation retroactively to the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, a provision of ODE’s policy manual, that forces online schools to document every minute of student activity in order to receive credit under a system known as an FTE Review Audit.  Seven schools were audited under the policy, including VCS, which is currently before the 10th District Court of Appeals, having been challenged in the case of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow v. Ohio Department of Education. No school was able to meet the standard, and these schools graduated and promoted their students in the same school year.

VCS Ohio was reviewed by ODE, and the Department ruled that the school, sponsored by the Reynoldsburg City School District in the Columbus suburb, could not provide duration data for student log in and log outs. VCS argued that it could not provide the data because it was not required to do so under the Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Administrative Code and did not have the technology in place to do so after the fact.

It appealed the decision to a Hearing Officer, selected by ODE, who would make a determination that has yet to be taken up by the entire State Board of Education. Formal action on the report has been pushed back several times, with the school now being told that it may take place in August.  The State Board of Education does not meet during the month of August, further complicating VCS’ future.

Second, ODE, using rules never approved for Sponsor Evaluations under H.B. 2 of the 131st General Assembly, has rated the public school district as “poor” and thus Reynoldsburg City Schools would be ineligible to sponsor VCS for the 2017-18 School Year. VCS provides a summer school program, and cannot do so without a sponsor. VCS is also a tenant at Reynoldsburg, and their lease expires at the end of this month.  The school cannot sign a new lease with Reynoldsburg City Schools, since it cannot be sponsored by the District. The Emergency Meeting is slated to deal with the issue, and such options as a contingency lease are possible. The school and its physical structure are up in the air, with no certainty as to its future, and that of the students, parents, teachers, and administrative staff.

VCS’ request for a new sponsor was not taken up, as had been planned, at the June 12, 2017 State Board Meeting. . However, the actions that were removed from the agenda had to do with the schools’ appeals to ODE to change sponsors.  The Hearing Officer’s reports had rejected the request. But, since the Board took no action, the school remains unsponsored at the end of the month, just as Summer school is slated to begin.

ODE inexplicably pulled the transfer request from its June 12, 2017 agenda putting the school’s sponsorship status in limbo. Had the State Board voted to follow the Hearing Officer’s recommendation to reject the transfer, the school would have some certainty and one year to look for a new sponsor.  Through inaction, the school lacks the ability to plan for the next academic year.

If a school is not sponsored by one of Ohio’s approved sponsors, ODE itself is supposed to become the school’s sponsor.  VCS staff have been informed that ODE will become their sponsor, but no legal action to bring this about has taken place.

It is possible that ODE could be the school’s sponsor at the same time being the entity that determines funding of the school.  No provision for this potential conflict of interest exists in law.

VCS Ohio and Reynoldsburg City Schools now have to swing into emergency action due to inaction by ODE and the State School Board. ODE is on quite the run this week, causing legal chaos with a district sponsored school. Auditor Dave Yost’s observation that ODE is “among the worst, if not the worst, run agency” in Ohio government is looking more and more true every hour that goes by. And, it is only Thursday.