JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KTVI) – Students and teachers are starting to return to school, some in the classroom, others online, but parents who might want their child to transition to online learning in their school district isn’t that easy.
Compared to what some might think, it’s a bit more complicated than just moving a student online in the state of Missouri.
Missouri school districts are not required to respond to online learning requests. After the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) received 800 comments asking for a response time to be implemented, lawmakers are now planning to ask the governor to change that.
“It sounds like if that school district is in an adversarial perspective, that the parents only option is ligation,” said State Senator Ed Emery (R-Barton County).
With COVID-19 not going anywhere and returning to the classroom in some districts is in limbo, parents are considering the option of moving their students to online learning.
“We have a list of a lot of parents that are indicating that they would like to get their child enrolled in these MOCAP programs and that is not taking place,” State Rep. Ron Bayse (R-Boone County) said. “I think we owe that to the parents to address that.”
In order for a student to transfer to online learning, the parent must request that move from the local school district, but currently, there’s no timeframe a school district has to return that request.
Josh Schindler is a lawyer out of St. Louis who works with the National Coalition of Public-Schools Options. He has handled more than a dozen cases in the state to help parents get answers from school districts.
“We need to ask the governor to waive the requirement that school districts are the gatekeeper,” Schindler said. “Why isn’t DESE doing its homework? Why aren’t they calling each and every school district or contacting them and asking how many MOCAP applications do you have?”
Schindler said it can cost the parent approximately $300 to $500 just to get a letter to the district through a lawyer to get a response. He said a vast 90 percent of the time, almost instantaneously from the time the district receives the letter, the parents get an approval.
DESE Senior Policy Advisor Michael Harris said they are trying to spot-check districts to make sure they aren’t holding any Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Programming (MOCAP) applications.
“We have tried to put some rules in motion to try and address some of the issues we’ve seen with school districts, that’s the main thing we are trying to address,” Harris said. “To make sure those districts aren’t sitting on applications and not doing anything with them.”
Harris said there were about 600 students enrolled in MOCAP and half of those were full time during the last school year.
“The parent comes in and says, ‘I want to enroll my child in MOCAP courses,'” Harris said. “The district then makes the determination, yes or no, and then it goes through the process.”
Parents then have 11 different programs to choose from under MOCAP.
The State Board of Education is currently discussing a 30-day response time where school districts will have to return a request.
“Dr. Vandeven said that some schools are saying they are not going to follow the law,” Schindler said. “It’s incredulous that some school districts who are teaching our children about right and wrong have acknowledged to DESE that they don’t intend to follow the MOCAP law.”
Lawmakers said during Wednesday’s Joint Committee hearing on education something needs to be done to get parents and students their answer.
“We need willing participation, we need willing DESE participation, we need willing public school participation because we’re caught in the middle and so we end up dictating something and then both sides say this isn’t working,” Sen. O’Laughlin, R-Shelby Co., said.
The decision that came out of Wednesday’s meeting is some lawmakers plan to draft a letter to the governor asking him for an emergency declaration to streamline the process for a student to join MOCAP.
“I think that as a committee we should encourage some sort of resolution because we are just leaving people hung out there,” O’Laughlin said. “I mean, this year is an unusual year.”
According to a previous interview with DESE on this topic, the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Quality Schools Chris Neale said after the board reviews all the comments, they will vote on the 30-day response time later this year and it could be January before the timeframe goes into effect.