The State of Ohio is requesting a court order that would require the largest online school in the state, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), to hand in all records they have which show when students logged in to complete schoolwork over the past year, and how long they were online.
The Ohio Department of Education had asked for the log-in and log-out records earlier in the month in order to complete a state audit on the school's attendance, but the records were not provided by the school. The state needs the records to determine whether or not the $108 million it paid to ECOT for the 2015-16 school year was inflated as a result of evidence found suggesting that many students at the school only log on for around an hour each day.
However, ECOT is refusing to hand over the documents. Instead, the school has told the state it will not provide them without a court order, reports Nathan Baca for 10TV.
"They will need to file other paperwork with the court and make a request to the court that we submit the other data," ECOT spokesman Neil Clark told Ohio Public Radio.
According to the filing provided to Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer French, the state is asking that ECOT be required to provide the records for 1,500 randomly selected students by ODE in order to allow the state to properly determine how well ECOT is tracking their schoolwork.
ECOT maintains that a 2002 contract they hold with the state does not require them to provide such information.
State law requires students enrolled in e-schools to spend a total of 920 hours each school year on "learning opportunities" both online and off, such as online classes, doing research, or going on field trips.
While the state says schools are required to provide proof of these "learning opportunities," ECOT states that they only need to offer them. Faculty members from ECOT have previously been allowed by the state to certify student participation in such activities through a teacher's certification form. The school said it has never been required to hand in documented proof beyond showing that students regularly log-in, writes Jim Siegel for The Columbus Dispatch.
However, the new charter reform law in the state that went into effect on February 1 of this year, House Bill 2, requires online schools to track student participation in classes every day. The state is asking that this be done through a student participation form to be filled out by parents once a month.
Two smaller online schools in the state, Provost Academy and Lakewood Digital Academy, have already been asked to pay money back to the state for inflating their attendance rates.
ECOT maintains that if the state is going to require such information of the school, a lot of money could be lost as a result.
"These underhanded procedural changes would severely limit our ability to provide a quality school experience," ECOT Superintendent Rick Teeters wrote on the school's Facebook page. "In fact, they would likely force us to and other e-schools to close our doors altogether."