The Missouri Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education is drafting a letter to send to Gov. Mike Parson to request temporary removal of school districts serving as the gatekeeper of Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program, or MOCAP. Due to COVID-19, more families are choosing to move their kids to virtual learning.
During a committee hearing Wednesday, St. Louis area attorney Josh Schindler says he represents more than one dozen Missouri parents who have had problems enrolling their kids in MOCAP for the fall. Schindler, who also works with the National Coalition of Public-Schools Options, blames districts because they decide if students can enroll in MOCAP.
“I have only one word for what the school districts are doing – it’s disgusting. And someone needs to act now because we’re going to have kids who are not going to go to school and risk their family’s lives,” he says.
According to him, districts have denied requests by his clients until he gets involved. Schindler says about 90% of the time, the district almost instantaneously approves their request after he steps in.
“I don’t know if DESE has the authority to give a waiver, but let’s stop the process with the school district as the gatekeeper and any parent who wants a MOCAP program, should get that MOCAP program at least as long as we’re dealing with COVID-19,” he says.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) oversees MOCAP. The state currently has 11 approved MOCAP providers – Accelerate, Acellus, Connections Academy, Edgenuity, EdisonLearning, Edmentum, Greenways, Launch, Mizzou Academy, MOVA, and Odysseyware.
Schindler is also known for his involvement in a lawsuit against a local school district and DESE. He was successful in winning the court case that led to the Missouri Virtual Academy, or MOVA, getting added as a MOCAP option for students.
State law requires districts to have a MOCAP enrollment process and parents must follow the district’s policy when applying. The process varies from district to district. Whether each request follows the district’s policy for MOCAP enrollment is a question to ask. If their application was rejected, at which level was it denied? There are three levels involved in the appeals process – the school, the district, and DESE.
A problem that has come up is many districts want parents to use the online programs they are already working with. These could be MOCAP vendors, district-developed curriculum, or district-approved commercial providers.
The reasons for limiting virtual providers per school could be for efficiency and to reduce data security risks. Districts must track certain information from each provider, including billing, enrollment, and progress. The more vendors you allow, the more reports districts must gather and the more work to find the information they need.
One risk of taking out the gatekeeper status is when it comes to students with disabilities. For these students, a team of educators (Individualized Education Plan team) must determine if it is in the best interest of those students to obtain an education through a MOCAP vendor. Additionally, MOCAP providers have an appeal process and price limits.
Schindler says the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has not been much help in resolving the enrollment problem.
Mike Harris with DESE says the department has already contacted some districts to make sure they are not delaying such requests. The Missouri Board of Education is also discussing a 30-day response time for school districts to return applications, but no decision has been made yet.
Last year, more than 600 students were enrolled in MOCAP. About half were full-time MOCAP students.
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