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Published in Print: March 29, 2006, as Wis. Court Sides With Virtual Schools

Wis. Court Sides With Virtual Schools

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A legal challenge to a virtual charter school in Wisconsin has failed, the second time in three years that a state court has turned down arguments from Wisconsin’s largest teachers’ union that the Internet schools are illegal.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, an affiliate of the National Education Association, maintained in a lawsuit filed in 2004 that the Wisconsin Virtual Charter Academy broke state law by relying too much on parents to educate their children.

The suit also charged that officials of the Northern Ozaukee district, which chartered the school, violated Wisconsin’s charter school and open-enrollment laws by operating a cyberacademy that enrolls students outside district boundaries. Wisconsin has a dozen district-chartered virtual charter schools.

The Northern Ozaukee district opened the Wisconsin Virtual Academy in fall 2004, using a largely self-paced curriculum provided by K12 Inc., a for-profit online education company headquartered in McLean, Va. The K-7 school’s setup depends on parents’ overseeing their children’s work with the support of licensed teachers employed by the district, though at about double the pupil-teacher ratio found in one of the district’s three traditional schools. At the time of the suit, only six of the virtual school’s 600-some students lived in the district, which enrolls about 900 other students.

Department’s Dual Role

Judge Joseph D. McCormack of the Ozaukee County Circuit Court ruled March 16 that Wisconsin’s teacher-certification law does not place requirements on parents helping with their children’s education. Nor, he found, did the charter or open-enrollment law prohibit virtual schools, including ones that enroll students from across the state.

“This removed a cloud for the upcoming year from virtual schools,” said Michael D. Dean, a lawyer who represented parents of Wisconsin Virtual Academy students. The parents had won the right to be included as defendants in the case, which the union filed against district officials, K12, and the Wisconsin education department.

Although the department was sued because of its role in providing state aid to the virtual charter schools, in the end it supported the union’s charge that licensed teachers did not assume enough teaching responsibility in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

Neither the union nor the state education department returned calls seeking comment.

Vol. 25, Issue 29, Page 8

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