This is the fourteenth session 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 symposium that was described as:
The delivery and instruction of students served under IDEA (2004) has taken center stage for charter schools since their birth almost twenty years ago. Since their evolution, special education laws have changed and traditional brick and mortar schools have attempted to change with the law. However, information technology is everywhere, and special educators, school leaders, teachers, parents and students have attempted to keep pace. With the increase of individualized learning focused on the identified students education, what does Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) look like and in what ways can charter schools measure academic and functional performance using innovative technologies and while working within the confines of IDEA?
The actual session is described in the online program as:
Cyber Charters and Special Education
Nicole Snyder, Latsha Davis & McKenna
Charter schools must abide by federal special education laws and regulations because they are part of the public education system. However, the means through which compliance is carried out differs in practice than on paper, but most due to a number of factors, the most important of which are a charter school’s legal identity and its linkage to a traditional Local Education Agency (LEA) for purposes of special education (Estes, 2009; Fiore et al., 2000; Horn and Miron, 2000). Familiarity with these concepts is critical, especially for a cyber charter school. An LEA is usually defined as an entity that has responsibility for the education of all children who reside within a designated geographical area of a state. Cyber Charter schools do not completely fit into this definition since they are schools of choice and have responsibility for students who are enrolled in the school from across the state and in some instances, the country. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its regulations specifically include charter schools in the definition of an LEA: “a public charter school that is established as an LEA under State law” [34 CFR Â§300.18]. However, there exist a number of nuances interwoven with understanding a cyber charter school’s level of responsibility for special education.
This presentation focuses on the uniqueness of Cyber Charter schools and their use of innovative technologies that assist them to function as their own local education agencies. However, since cyber charters can also be authorized and operate under some other entity, oftentimes a remote educational management organization, (EMO) this makes the education of students with special needs that much more complex (Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001). Most states have clear guidelines and “strong laws,” that support charter school autonomy and independence and allow them to determine the best means to properly educate students, especially those with identified special education needs consistent with IDEA. However, status is not always clearly delineated and a cyber charter school’s legal status for special education may be different from its legal status for all other matters. Lastly, the role and function of providing a FAPE for identified students is typically done in the home, through live sessions using innovative technologies and through synchronous and asynchronous sessions via a teaching and learning platform consistent with distance education. How and to what degree do we know that these technologies are successful forms of delivery and instruction, become the essential question of this paper presentation.
This portion of the symposium focused specifically on special education and cyber charter school. The session began with a statement that both charter schools and cyber charter schools are part of the public education system, as such they must abide by federal special education laws. I suspect that this may be a ruling specific to special education (see For Profit Charter Schools Are NOT Public Schools).
Legally, the role and function of providing a FAPE for identified students is typically done in the home. This is accomplished through live sessions using innovative technologies, as well as synchronous and asynchronous sessions via a teaching and learning platform consistent with distance education. From a legal standpoint, most parents seem to be more interested in the least resistant environment as being the home – so that all services are getting pushed into the home.
This second lawyer transitioned to the role of Educational Management Organizations (EMOs), underscoring the fact that there are issues that need to be resolved with the role of special education and these third party EMOs.
One case that she did highlight was Slippery Rock Area School District v. Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. Essentially, the cyber charter school offered kindergarten to four year old, but the school district did not have a similar program. The courts decided that because the district did not have their program (and it wasn’t within what was required by law), the school district did not have to provide funds for those students.
There were two non-Pennsylvania cases that she went over:
- Douglas County School District RE-1, 109 LRP 32980 (SEA Colorado 2009)
- Benson Unified School District, 56 IDELR 244 (SEA Arizona 2011)
- Virtual Community School of Ohio, 43 IDELR 239 (SEA Ohio 2005)
This session then transitioned with a quote from Demystifying Special Education in Virtual Charter Schools by Laureen Morando Rhim and Julie Kowal – published by Public Impact in 2008, and then a generalized – typically neo-liberal plug – about the benefits of cyber education.
To their credit, they did reference that there are some challenges and cited two cases as examples of this:
- L.Y. ex rel J.Y. v. Bayonne Board of Education, 62 IDELR 71 (3d Circuit 2013, unpublished)
- Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School, 113 LRP 39293 (SEA PA 08/23/13)
Then we kind of got sidetracked in a discussion of the legal/regulatory realities and the actual or practical realities on the ground (which I helped contributed to).