Why Are Missouri School Districts Blocking Course Access?
Educational options are scarce for Missouri students. Missouri’s new virtual learning program should be a resource providing more options for students, but it’s being slowed down by red tape. Some parents have to go to great lengths—in some cases hiring lawyers—to access the virtual learning program. A family in the Warsaw R-IX district with a child who has a debilitating medical condition had to hire a lawyer to force the district to allow the child to enroll in a virtual learning program.
A few months ago, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) took the first steps to implement the virtual learning program. The newly mandated course access program offers options to students beyond their assigned public school and can provide a full-time virtual program for students.
But in July, a parent had to sue the Fulton School District so her three children could access an existing virtual learning curriculum known as Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA). The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the parent, stating that DESE had to list MOVA as an authorized course access program provider because the plain language of the law required that MOVA be automatically approved. This was the first case when a family had to take legal action to access online courses.
You would think that after the Fulton case, the student in Warsaw R-IX should have had access to MOVA as well. But that’s not what happened.
The family in Warsaw R-IX had decided, after consulting with doctors, that a full-time virtual education would be best for their child for safety and educational purposes. The child was initially approved for course access, but the district rescinded the approval without following the proper protocol and despite no changes to the student’s circumstances.
The Warsaw R-IX district required MOVA to prove that it complies with state requirements. But that’s not what the law says, and DESE had already been ordered to list MOVA as an approved course provider. The district asked the family to choose either a part- or full-time traditional in-building class schedule for the student. The family was forced to hire a lawyer in response, and only then did the district allow the student to enroll in MOVA.
The virtual instruction program was intended to provide families with choices for their children’s education, and families want to use it. The first case in Fulton was troubling. The second case makes you wonder whether some Missouri public school districts simply oppose the legal right of parents to choose online classes and are willing to throw up roadblocks unless legally challenged. In these cases, whose interest is the district really serving?