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Proposed Regulations on Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools, 603 CMR 54.00; Repeal of Regulations on Virtual Innovation Schools, 603 CMR 48.00; and Technical Amendments to Regulations on Special Education, 603 CMR 28.00

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
December 6, 2013


On January 2, 2013, Governor Patrick signed into law Chapter 379 of the Acts of 2012, "An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools." Most of this legislation is codified at G.L. c. 71, § 94. The new law authorizes the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) to adopt regulations and, through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department), to oversee the establishment and operation of publicly funded, high quality virtual schools in the Commonwealth. The new statute is responsive to the position the Board adopted in 2011 that there should be a stronger oversight and consumer protection role for the Commonwealth than the one provided by the innovation school statute.

Enclosed with this memorandum are proposed new regulations relating to Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools (CMVS) for your initial review and discussion and for a vote to solicit public comment. In addition to the new regulations, we are proposing a repeal of those portions of the Innovation Schools Regulations, 603 CMR 48.00, that relate to virtual schools (because those provisions became obsolete as of July 1, 2013), and technical amendments to the Special Education Regulations, 603 CMR 28.00, (to conform to the virtual schools statute). With the Board's approval at its December meeting, we will solicit public comment on these proposed regulations and bring them back to the Board for a final vote in March 2013.

The proposed regulations carry out the purpose and intent of the statute and advance the system of authorization and accountability regarding CMVS. The regulations were drafted with reference to the Regulations on Charter Schools, 603 CMR 1.00, so you will notice some intentional similarities. For example, members of the board of trustees of a CMVS have responsibilities comparable to those of members of charter school boards; they also will need to attend training as do board members of charter schools.

The Department discussed these proposed regulations with and solicited feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, including the Digital Learning Advisory Council, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, the CMVS currently in operation and the current applicant group, the Massachusetts Organization of Educational Collaboratives, the Office of the State Auditor, and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Information regarding the Digital Learning Advisory Council is attached to this memorandum. Our work with stakeholders has put us in a strong position to move forward and carry out the responsibilities of the new law and implement the proposed regulations.

These proposed regulations address specific areas required by the new law, such as:

  • standards for granting certificates for CMVS and amending those certificates;
  • standards and procedures for student recruitment, enrollment and calculating enrollment caps;
  • responsibilities and training requirements for board members;
  • standards and procedures for funding CMVS:
  • audit and annual reporting requirements;
  • standards and procedures for closure;
  • standards and procedures for complaints;
  • standards and procedures for probation, suspension, revocation and non-renewal of certificates; and
  • evaluation and compliance requirements.

In terms of serving all students, the statute requires a CMVS to provide special education and English Language Learner services to enrolled students. The CMVS itself may develop the services needed to serve its students, contract with others to provide them, or work collaboratively with a district or group of districts to provide services. The CMVS will bill the student's district of residence for the costs of the special education services via the School Choice Special Education Increment Template and, to calculate the costs, use the Special Education Circuit Breaker Certification Statement. Programmatic responsibility for students with disabilities who are determined to require an out-of-district placement, in compliance with 603 CMR 28.00, will return to the school district where the student resides.

In addition to the regulations, we are preparing a number of policies, guidance documents, and procedures to assist in implementing the new law. For example, we are developing guidance for opening a CMVS and a variety of technical assistance documents, including guidelines for submitting annual reports. We continue to post answers to frequently asked questions for parents, sending districts, board members, and other stakeholders.

To ensure quality programs in CMVS, the Department, in partnership with the Digital Learning Advisory Council, is developing Commonwealth Virtual School Performance Criteria. These criteria will be used to assess performance and provide clearer expectations for boards of trustees seeking renewal of a certificate. The Department is also developing a framework and process to publish a list of online courses that are aligned with state academic standards. We expect to post the list on the Department's website by June 2014, as required by statute.

The CMVS currently in operation, and all new CMVSs, will be required to comply with these regulations once they are effective. We anticipate that the regulations will be effective in the spring of 2014. Starting this year, we will collect data from CMVS to help inform the Department and Board regarding future regulations and guidelines.

I recommend that the Board vote to solicit public comment on the proposed regulations. If you have any questions on the proposed regulations, please contact Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner at 781-338-3222; Luis Rodriguez, Director Office of Digital Learning at 781-338-3247; or me.


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Proposed 603 CMR 52.00, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools
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Proposed Amendments to 603 CMR 28.00, Special Education
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Proposed Repeal of Portions of 603 CMR 48.00, Innovation Schools Regulations
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Digital Learning Advisory Council

Last Updated: December 11, 2013
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