Appeals court rules against statewide virtual school
In a lawsuit brought by WEAC, a state court of appeals ruled unanimously Wednesday (December 5, 2007) that the Internet-based Wisconsin Virtual Academy ( WIVA) is violating state law by misapplying the state's open enrollment statute and by using unlicensed instructors.
The court ruled that the online taxpayer-funded charter school operated by the Northern Ozaukee School District relies on parents to serve as teachers, and therefore violates Wisconsin's teacher certification requirements.
The court noted that WIVA employs several certified teachers who live throughout the state and have e-mail, telephone and some Internet-based contact with the pupils. "However, primary day-to-day responsibility for implementing the pupils’ education resides with the pupils’ parents," the court said.
In reversing a lower court ruling, the appeals court said, "The question is not whether and how a parent may assist his or her child with
schoolwork; rather, it is whether the District can establish a public school,
using public funds, that relies upon unlicensed individuals as the primary
teachers of the pupils. The problem is not that the unlicensed WIVA parents teach their children, but that they 'teach in a public school.' "
The court also ruled that the WIVA could not use the open enrollment statute - its primary source of funding - to provide education to students in other districts by claiming students received education at its administrative offices when in fact students were being educated in their homes throughout the state.
In reaching its conclusions, the court found that:
- WIVA violated a state law that states that a school board "may not enter into a contract for the establishment of a charter school located outside the school district.” Although the administration of the district is located in Fredonia, the court noted, "the large majority of WIVA students receive their educations at locations outside of the district, from teachers working at locations outside of the district. The conclusion is inescapable that WIVA is located, in part, outside of the district."
- Because WIVA’s nonresident pupils attend school outside the district, the appeals court ordered the lower court to enjoin the DPI from making pupil transfer payments based upon nonresident students enrolled in WIVA. That means that WIVA will lose most of its funding. WIVA has been receiving more than $5,500 from the state for each student attending WIVA who is not a resident of the Northern Ozaukee School District. More than 99% of WIVA's students are from outside the district.
In a statement, WEAC Legal Counsel Bruce Meredith applauded the appeals court ruling, saying it is now up to the Legislature "to make virtual schools accountable to the students who use them and the taxpayers who fund them."
“Virtual education plays a vital role in today’s great schools, and many WEAC members throughout the state use virtual education technologies in their classrooms every day," Meredith said.
“We are pleased with the court of appeals’ unanimous decision. Now the Wisconsin Legislature must pass legislation that addresses virtual schools and how to make them accountable to students, parents, taxpayers and communities.
“Most people understand that the laws and policies governing traditional brick-and-mortar schools cannot be confidently applied to institutions like the Wisconsin Virtual Academy and do not give us the assurance we need that students’ educational needs are addressed," he said.
“We are eager to work with the Legislature and with other education groups to develop legislation, as many other states have, that encourages innovation, protects taxpayers and students, and ensures that all students attend great schools.”
The complete appeals court ruling
Posted December 5, 2007