JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Cole County judge ruled in favor of a family who sued the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) after being denied access to a virtual education program.
Franklin County Judge Gael Wood issued a writ of mandamus in favor of Miya Estill who sued after she said the Fulton Public School District denied her children’s enrollment in online courses offered by the Grandview R-2 School District called “MOVA.”
The family had argued legislation signed into law last year — which broadly allows students to automatically enroll in virtual program courses — should prevent the children from being denied access to the programs.
In his order, Wood said “admitted evidence” showed the Grandview courses were in compliance with all of the state’s requirements. He said a writ of mandamus requiring DESE to place the MOVA courses on its list of pre-approved programs by Aug. 6 was needed to “timely protect the rights of” Estill and her children.
Other reliefs requested in the petition not mentioned were denied. Court costs are to be taxed to DESE.
“This ruling is not only a win for the Estill family, but for students across Missouri,” Onder said. “The General Assembly passed SB 603 so students could learn and succeed in whatever educational environment works best for them. This ruling finally corrects the Fulton School District’s outrageous decision to deny the Estills the educational opportunities afforded to them under state law. It is time for bureaucrats to end their obstructionism and follow the law.”
DESE responded to the ruling in a statement:
“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education supports high-quality educational opportunities for all students. The process DESE has in place for MOCAP-approved courses is designed to ensure that virtual instruction meets state standards, provides properly certificated teachers, protects student privacy, and is accessible for students with disabilities. In view of the judge’s order, DESE will include MOVA and other programs requested by school districts or charter schools in MOCAP. A quality review of these courses and providers will occur after they are operational.”
SB 603 said school districts and charters must allow eligible students to enroll in virtual school program courses of his or her choice — either full-time or as part of an annual course load. If a district or charter school denies a request, it must be for “good cause,” meaning it has made a “determination that doing so is not in the best educational interest of the student.”
The denial and justification must be given to the student and family along with information regarding appealing to the district board or other governing body. During the appeal process, the family will be able to present an argument for why a child should be enrolled in the virtual program, and the district or charter school will have the opportunity to present its side.
Estill’s lawsuit maintained the MOVA courses met the required standards to be eligible.
Onder previously told The Missouri Times DESE created additional “bureaucratic hurdles” for families which was “not the intent of the bill.” He said he was worried DESE could attempt to restrict access to singular online courses as well as full-time enrollment programs.
Karen Snethen, a spokeswoman for the Fulton Public School District told the News Tribune DESE has only approved a few courses for fifth grade students — not any comprehensive elementary programs. She said students cannot be guaranteed enrollment in approved courses either.
“Should a current approved virtual course be requested, [Fulton Public School] officials will follow Board of Education policy and review the request for the ‘best educational interest’ of the student, thereby making a determination,” she told the newspaper last month.
The case was originally assigned to Judge Patricia S. Joyce before it was kicked to Wood.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.