Eleven states described one or more benefits associated with serving students with disabilities in virtual K-12 public school programs. These include:
The report "Demystifying Special Education in Virtual Charter Schools" by Lauren Morando Rhim and Julie Kowal of Public Impact, published in January 2008 as part of the Primers in Special Education in Charter Schools series funded by the U.S. Department of Education, notes:
- accessibility of curriculum for students on long-term suspension or homebound placement;
- individualized attention;
- self-pacing of online education;
- availability of multi-media content and supplemental resources;
- students' needs for fewer behavioral supports since they are removed from the school building setting—especially students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or emotional disturbance (ED); and
- creation of another placement option for students with disabilities and their families.
as public schools, virtual charter schools are required to abide by all federal education statutes, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution....Consequently, [chartering agencies] are responsible for abiding by all special education rules and regulations, including conducting special education student identification and evaluation, developing individual education programs (IEPs) and providing individualized support, curricular modifications and adaptations as well as related services such as occupational, physical and speech therapy.In Wisconsin, virtual schools are chartered through local education agencies (i.e. school districts); there is no current state-level virtual school program. This means that students who want to enroll in a virtual school but do not live in the school district which charters that virtual school can enroll in that virtual school only by applying for admission through Wisconsin's annual open enrollment process.
The Wisconsin open enrollment application period for the 2010-2011 school year starts today and runs for 2 weeks and 5 days (February 1-February 19, 2010). The open enrollment general information page on the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) web site shows 15 virtual schools (a few of which are new this year) for 2010-2011, chartered through 14 different school districts. Three virtual schools serve K-12, two serve K-8 only, one serves grades 6-8 only, two serve grades 6-12 only, and seven serve grades 9-12 only. Applicants are limited to 3 choices in their open enrollment applications.
An open enrollment application can be denied by the virtual school's school district if the applicant has been referred for a special education evaluation that was not completed prior to the application, or if special education or related services are not available, or if there is no space available in the special education or related services program. (Please note that there are several additional reasons—not covered in this post—as to why an open enrollment application can be denied by a school district that the applicant is seeking to transfer out of or into, which are summarized elsewhere on the DPI's general information page.)
A piece of information that is not publicized to parents is that a student with an IEP cannot be denied open enrollment on the basis of lack of space or services in the special education program if the parent has refused or revoked consent for special education services (DPI January 30, 2009 memo in Microsoft Word, accessed from the DPI web site by following the link to the "Public School Open Enrollment page," to the link titled "Special Education" under the "Information for School Districts" heading, to the link titled "DPI Memo January 2009 - Recent Changes in IDEA Law Affecting Open Enrollment"). Where a parent has refused or revoked consent for special education, "the child's application must be reviewed as an application for regular education."
Since a student's open enrollment application is limited to 3 choices, it would be useful for parents to know how much space and what services are available for the special education needs of their child, so that they can make full use of their limited selections. Unfortunately, this information isn't readily available. This information is not included in either the marketing web sites for the virtual schools or the school district web sites. A query to the DPI elicited the following response:
You can call the virtual charter schools to investigate the programs available at the school. You can ask to speak with their special education director about your child’s needs. However, it is important to understand that nothing a school district/virtual charter school/special education director tells you is a promise either of approval or denial and such conversations will not be accepted as part of the record in an open enrollment appeal.The track record of Wisconsin virtual schools in approving or denying admissions applications for students with disabilities is not monitored by the DPI. School year 2009-10 is the first school year for which school-level information on open enrollment virtual school approvals or denials has been gathered by the DPI, but this information has not yet been compiled or published.
Enrollment (at November 2008) for students with disabilities in Wisconsin virtual schools is at a significantly lower proportion than the proportion of students with disabilities enrolled in Wisconsin public schools statewide (the following table is compiled from data from the DPI web site):