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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Virtual Innovation Schools - Greenfield Waiver Requests

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
September 21, 2011

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We last discussed the subject of virtual schools at the May 24, 2011, Board meeting. At that meeting, the Board voted to allow the virtual innovation school established last year by the Greenfield School Committee, "MAVA@Greenfield", to continue in operation for a second year with its existing K-8 grade structure. At the same time, the Board voted to deny a request by Greenfield to establish a second virtual school to serve grades 9-12 and voted to deny a request by the Hadley School Committee to establish another virtual school. The Board determined that before proceeding with any expansion of virtual schools in the Commonwealth, legislation is needed to provide for stronger state oversight. That legislative proposal is currently under consideration by the General Court.

Greenfield Superintendent Susan Hollins, on behalf of the Greenfield School Committee, has submitted the attached request to modify the Board's previous vote. The district is requesting permission to add a 9th grade to the existing K-8 school, to allow for the continued attendance of students who were enrolled in the virtual school last year as 8th graders. The district is also asking for permission to exceed the 500-student limit in our regulations, to accommodate additional students who might benefit from a virtual school. The school served more than 200 students last year, and the district is anticipating a significant increase in enrollment for this current year.

I am recommending that you allow last year's eighth graders to continue as ninth graders during the current school year. I agree with the superintendent that it would be unnecessarily disruptive to require these students to transfer to another program while we take this year to reevaluate how virtual schools will operate in the Commonwealth.

I am not recommending approval of the district's request for a waiver of the regulation limiting the size of the school to 500 students. Although I recognize that there may be a significant demand for virtual schooling from students not currently enrolled, it would be unfair to allow Greenfield to exceed the existing limit while at the same time deferring requests from other districts that would like to open virtual schools. I believe the Board acted appropriately last May in deferring any major expansion of virtual schooling until after the Legislature has had an opportunity to revisit the statutory framework.

Finally, I am recommending that the Board grant MAVA@Greenfield a waiver of the Board's regulations relating to the admission of special education students to a virtual school. The current regulation reads as follows:

603 CMR 48.05(6). Special education services. A student with an individualized education program (IEP) may enroll in a virtual innovation school if the student's team, as defined in 603 CMR 28.02, concurs that such a placement is educationally appropriate and consistent with federal and state special education laws and regulations. The sponsoring district shall be responsible for the provision of all services required by the IEPs of students enrolled in a virtual innovation school.

The first sentence, requiring approval of the student's team, was included in the regulations in a well-intentioned effort to protect students from inappropriate placements. In practice, however, it has turned out to be an obstacle to the enrollment of special education students that is in apparent conflict with state and federal special education requirements. Next month I will be bringing a number of proposed amendments to the Innovation School regulations to you for your review, including the elimination of this sentence. In the meantime, I recommend that the Board waive this particular provision for MAVA@Greenfield in order to facilitate the enrollment of special education students this fall.

A motion for your consideration is attached. If you need any additional information in advance of the Board meeting, please contact me or Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson.

Attachments:

  1. Waiver request from Greenfield Public Schools
  2. Motion


Last Updated: September 21, 2011
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