This is the twentieth session – and last for Sunday - that I am blogging from the 2014 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association (AERA) in Philadelphia. This session was a part of a roundtable session entitled “Charter School Management: Cyber Schools and Performance.” The actual session is described in the online program as:
Legal Responsibility for Special Education in Cyber Charter Schools
Regina R. Umpstead, Central Michigan University, Robert Andersen, Cooley Law School, Bruce Wells Umpstead, BrightBytes
[No abstract provided in the online system]
In this study, Regina and Bruce (at least they were the two presenters present) studied cyber charter school legal responsibilities with regards to special education in California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The project was something that they were asked to investigate based on a request from the Michigan Department of Education – and Regina mentioned some involvement of the Center for Online Learning and Students with Disabilities at the University of Kansas.
Bruce began his portion by describing the cyber charter landscape in each of the states that was studied – actually, he spoke to both the cyber school (i.e., full-time) and virtual school (i.e., supplemental) landscape. For the purpose of the study, cyber charter schools were full-time online schools that operated through primarily online means.
Regina then shifted the focus back to students with disabilities, and began by highlighting the different laws (see my notes on AERA 2014 – A Legal Framework for Special Education and Charter Schools for the complete list). She underscored the notion of services being provided in the least resistant environment, which parents want to argue as the home but many cyber schools argue is the online environment. This could form many of the next round of legal battles.
Bruce then focused on Michigan and mentioned that Michigan was the first cyber charter school in the United States was in the state in 1999, when Noah Webster created a dial-up system that targeted a home schooling audience. This program was shut down by the legislature in reaction to a law suit that, according to Bruce, “went no where.” He then outlined the special education law, where the state was the most interesting in their opinions – because by state law there is a requirement that both the local education authority (LEA) (i.e., the cyber charter school) and the district of the student’s residence are required to provide special education service. Apparently, this is a bit contentious within the state and the State has refused to publish their legal brief.
In California, cyber charters are also considered LEAs. But it is the State Department of Education that decides upon funding.
In Illinois, most of the cyber charters are authorized by local school districts. One of the issues is that the district of residence is expected to provide funding for services. Regina indicated that cyber charter laws in Illinois enumerate a list of state education laws that they have to comply with, which are only a select few of the education laws that all traditional public schools have to abide by. Even more interesting was the fact that state special education laws were not included in the list that cyber charter schools have to comply with (although they would still have to comply with federal laws).
In Ohio, the district of residence is responsible for special education. However, when a student enrolls in a cyber charter school the responsibilities for special education transfers solely to the cyber charter school.
In Pennsylvania, cyber charters are exempted from education law in most areas. However, they are considered LEAs for the purposes of special education.
Regina indicated that Texas was an interesting model for cyber charters and special education – and one that might be seen as a model for other states. The use of a statewide network provided a model that removes the notion or conflict of district of residence that occurs in many states.
From my reading (or listening), it appears that the greatest tensions appear to be source of funding and whether it is the district of residence or the cyber charter or both that provide special education services.