Opening Delayed for New Jersey’s First Online-Only School

The first online charter school to begin operating in New Jersey has had its opening delayed by a year, reports. This week the state Department of Education announced that nine new charter schools have been approved to open their doors this September. The New Jersey Virtual Academy, however, wasn't one of them.

When the proposal for the school, which will be operated by online learning company K12, was first submitted, opponents argued that the legislation that regulated charter schools in the state didn't allow the approval of online-only charters like NJVA. Education advocacy groups made this point in a letter to New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf last month.

"This new form of charter school was never contemplated, and has never been authorized, by the Legislature," said the letter signed by the Newark-based Education Law Center, New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey School Boards Association and five other organizations.

They also warned of "educational chaos" if virtual schools are approved and "the agency's actions are later determined by the courts to be unlawful."

In expectation of being allowed to open for the 2012-13 academic year, NJVA has been on a recruiting drive to serve a class of nearly 850 enrolled in grades K-10. This means that the prospective students will have to look at alternatives while the school goes through a "planning" year. In announcing the delay, Cerf explained that the academy needed the additional time to work out issues with its "academic and operational components," and said that the decision serves to further demonstrate that the Department of Education is committed to making sure that the high standards used to judge charter school applications are maintained.

The DOE did issue approvals to two so-called "hybrid" schools that have a substantial online component together with some traditional classroom offerings. The two schools, which will now open in September, are Newark Prep and Merit Preparatory of Newark Charter School.

One additional online-only charter, the New Jersey Virtual Charter School, that initially applied for approval to open this year, later requested an additional one year to improve its proposal.

Other attempts have been made to slow down virtual schools in New Jersey. A bill proposing a one-year moratorium on virtual charters was passed by the Assembly last month, but no similar action took place in the Senate.

Assembly Education Chairman Patrick Diegnan, (D-Middlesex), today noted that while the "blended" schools are moving ahead, the planning year buys some time. "Let's hope calmer minds will prevail, and have a thorough review of the entire issue," he said.

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