Minnesota’s online schools have quietly persuaded county prosecutors to accept an expansive view of the state’s outdated truancy law and use the courts to reel hundreds of cyber-truants back to class, but both prosecutors and educators agree the makeshift arrangement can’t last.
It’s important work, school officials say, at a time when enrollment in online schools is soaring, but so are dropout rates. Online students made up a disproportionate share of truancy cases last year, and virtual schools worry about a backlash against their industry if they are perceived as havens for slackers.
To catch online truants, officials in virtual schools in Minnesota use mathematical formulas that compare the hours spent on online lessons and academic progress. The formula allows for high achievers who work quickly, while catching students who are just going through the motions.
But officials say the legislature needs to update the outdated truancy law so online truants and their families don’t escape consequences.
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A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2012 edition of Digital Directions as Online Schools Go Old-School to Nab Cyber-Truants