KGOU

Senator Wants Virtual Schools Accountable For Student Attendance

Jan 19, 2017

Virtual charter schools would be required to track and report student attendance —something the schools aren’t currently tasked with doing — under a law proposed by an Oklahoma senator.

Oklahoma has five virtual charter schools, enrolling a combined 13,225 students. Two schools reported 100 percent attendance last year, drawing questions and criticism from education advocates.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

Under Senate Bill 244, virtual students who don’t log on to their program at least once a day for five days during a seven-day week would be marked absent. The schools would be required to submit to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board a report when a student accumulates 10 absences.

In brick-and-mortar schools, students are expected to attend class 175 days a year, and a child who misses 10 or more days in a semester is consider truant.

An Oklahoma Watch report on virtual school attendance prompted Senate education committee chair Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, to file the bill. That story reported that virtual charters have the freedom under the law to create their own attendance policies, and each school’s policy is different. An answer to how some online schools could report perfect attendance lies in state statute, which specifies that students are “in attendance” as long as they are participating in an online course.

“I wanted to put into statute a clear definition of our expectation of attendance, and yet try to be flexible with the virtual side of life,” he said. “It was the article. I was shocked and surprised to see that two had actually claimed 100 percent attendance.”

Stanislawski has written a number of laws governing online schooling in Oklahoma, including the legislation that created the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board in 2012.

The board in 2016 took action against the state’s newest virtual charter school, ABLE, and revoked its contract. The school appealed, and the state Board of Education is expected to hear the appeal on Jan. 26.

Complaints lodged against ABLE included not complying with the Open Meeting Act, which another bill, SB 245 seeks to address. The proposal, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, would require virtual school boards to maintain a quorum of members for the entire meeting, even if using videoconferencing.