Missouri school districts not required to respond for online learning requests

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO – With a steady increase of positive COVID-19 cases in the state, some parents and students might be thinking about virtual schooling, but in the state of Missouri it’s a little more complicated than just moving a student online.

If a parent wants their student, whether in elementary school or high school, to learn virtually they have to request that move from their local school district. Currently, there is no law in Missouri on a timeframe for when a school district must respond to that request.

Chris Neale is the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Quality Schools for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). He said it is important for the Missouri State Board of Education to require a timeframe for local school districts to respond to a family for online education.

“Sometimes there is a lag between the request to enroll and a decision whether or not a student does enroll,” said Neale. “We felt like that was really a fairness issue to the student. Whether the decision was positive or negative, they should get an answer fairly quickly.”

Right now, under the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Programming (MOCAP) there is no requirement, making school districts sit on a request for months. This past school year was the first year MOCAP was available after being passed by the legislature in 2018. It was previously known as MoVIP. Neale said MoVIP was a statewide funded program that served medically fragile students.

“MOCAP really broadened the intended audience to all students who are in the public schools of Missouri,” said Neale. “The school pays for the instruction. The school gets to claim the attendance as they would for a student in traditional classes. If you simply prefer to have a class online, you can enroll that way. You don’t have to justify it as a medical necessity.”

Executive Director for the National Coalition of Public-School Options Jordan McGrain said Missouri is one of the few states without a deadline for school districts.

“There are other districts that have almost gamed the system in a way to prevent a parent’s decision or prevent the enrollment of that students from taking place,” said McGrain. “It’s created a real timeline issue if you’re a parent in Missouri who wants to enroll in a virtual education program because you’re concerned about the return to school due to COVID-19.”

The Missouri State Board of Education discussed implementing a 30-day response time for the school district back in its June meeting. Neale said it could be September or October before the board votes. McGrain said this means school districts won’t have to answer parents before the start of school in August.

“We started with a 30-day window and we will see how the public reacts to that,” said Neale. “We may need to shorten it; we may need to lengthen it.”

“Families that don’t want to go back and want to consider an alternative and are concerned about the health risk associated with COVID-19, they need answers now and they need options now,” said McGrain.

McGrain said he knew of a family in the St. Louis area that tried for months to get a response from their local district.

“A mother began the virtual school enrollment process last fall and did not receive any response from the school districts until litigation had been filed compelling a response,” said McGrain.

A public comment period will be open starting July 15 through Aug. 14 for anyone who would like to comment on the measure.

If you would like to make a comment to the Missouri Board of Education, you can email your comment to DESE.MOCAP@dese.mo.gov.

Neale said after that time, the board will review the comments and vote later this year. He said it could be January before the timeframe goes into effect for school districts.

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