JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With growing concerns over the impact of COVID-19 on the upcoming school year, Missouri parents today joined with the National Coalition for Public School Options (PSO), a parent advocacy organization dedicated to choice in education, to urge lawmakers to expand access and eliminate arbitrary barriers to full-time virtual education programs.
The Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP) passed by the legislature in 2019 gave parents the option to enroll students in virtual courses or full-time programs. A provision in the MOCAP law allows the student’s resident district to deny enrollment if they can demonstrate that virtual education is not in the student’s best interest, leading to conflicts between parents and students, even during the pandemic.
“My local school district fought tooth and nail to stop us from enrolling my son in a full-time virtual program,” said Stacy Walker, a Worth Country School District parent. “We should be making it easier for people to participate in online schooling options, not harder. Today, I feel like I have my son back. He’s not as anxious anymore, the bullying has stopped, and he enjoys school now.”
Some school districts in Missouri have used this “veto power” provision to arbitrarily block enrollment for parents and students without cause, forcing families into litigation simply for the right to enroll in state-approved virtual education programs. In 2019, a district judge reversed a decision by the Fulton County School District to deny a student’s enrollment in a full-time virtual program, and ordered the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to list approved virtual education programs on the department’s website.
This week, lawmakers are considering legislation that would temporarily restrict the veto power of school districts against parents who are concerned about the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation appears to have stalled, potentially leaving parents in hostile resident school districts with few options aside from continued litigation to win the right to enroll in virtual programs.
“With parents concerned about the health and safety of their children for the upcoming school year, lawmakers simply must acknowledge the growing demand for virtual education and act now to expand access and,” said Jordan McGrain, Executive Director for PSO.
Since 2019, PSO has been providing legal assistance and other resources to families who had been denied by their resident district from enrolling students in full-time virtual programs.
“After bullying made my daughter anxious every day to continue on in her current school, I decided to enroll her in Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA), an online public school. The difference in my daughter was incredible,” said Tina Garrett, a parent in the Kahoka School District. “However, this online experience almost did not happen for her. When we tried to transfer her, our home school district was unhelpful and put up obstacles to prevent us from leaving. Parents should be empowered to do the right thing when it comes to their children’s education.”
“My school district tried to give us the runaround and prevent us from enrolling in a full-time virtual education program,” said Crystal Preston, an Affton School District parent. “Thankfully, I was familiar with our rights under the law because the difference for my son has been night and day. He’s getting A’s and enjoys the coursework, and I wish we’d made the transition years earlier.”
McGrain said the demand for virtual education will continue to grow given ongoing safety concerns due to COVID-19 and questions about when students might be able to return to brick-and-mortar schools this fall. Parents are concerned that districts won’t adapt and that instructional time will suffer.
“Now more than ever, parents want access to educational options that allow students to learn in a safe and healthy environment,” McGrain said. “These options exist in Missouri, and school districts should respect the law and the decisions of parents trying to do the right thing.”