Q: Does a CMVS Board of Trustees (BoT) need to file to become a public/non-profit entity before submitting an application? If so, what type of public/non-profit entity?
A: A CMVS does not become a public entity until the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) grants a certificate to its proposed board of trustees. Entities completing an application for a CMVS do not need to incorporate as non-profits prior to filing a proposal. A CMVS may not incorporate.
Q: Can single districts be an education collaborative?
A: No. "Two or more school committees of cities, towns, and regional school districts and charter school boards may establish an educational collaborative." 603 CMR 50.03(1).
Q: Can a collaborative newly established by the Greenfield Public Schools (Greenfield) both sponsor and then serve as the CMVS?
A: A collaborative may seek to establish a CMVS but cannot also serve as the CMVS. As a part of its proposal, an entity seeking to establish a CMVS must identify a proposed board of trustees for the CMVS. If a certificate is granted, the Board grants the certificate to the proposed board of trustees, and the board of trustees becomes the public agents authorized to oversee and govern the CMVS. A CMVS operates independently of any school district or collaborative. Greenfield will become a "sending district" for students who reside in Greenfield and enroll in a CMVS fulltime and will pay a tuition to the CMVS for each such student.
If Greenfield were to utilize a collaborative as the entity filing a proposal for a CMVS, that collaborative will not have the advantage provided to Greenfield in Section 6 of Chapter 379 of the Acts of 2012.
Q: Can a collaborative be in non-contiguous cities/towns? Regions?
A: Yes. There is no requirement that a collaborative be made up of contiguous cities, towns, regional school districts, and charter schools.
Q: What provision is ESE prepared to make to accommodate the likelihood that Greenfield, as a first round CMVS applicant, cannot fully meet all governance and employment requirements by the submission date of March 25th?
A: The commonwealth virtual schools law was signed on January 2, 2013, providing very specific language addressing Greenfield. The RFP contains essentially those requirements specified in the statute. The due date for the RFP was established to avoid a gap between the end of MAVA as a Greenfield school and the opening of the new CMVS. As part of its response, Greenfield must submit a proposed board of trustees. Without a proposed board of trustees acceptable to the Commissioner and to the Board, there is no entity to which to grant a certificate for a CMVS.
The proposed board of trustees must be independent of and autonomous from Greenfield. Arguably, there may be some overlap but it cannot be a majority of the membership. The school district cannot control the CMVS, and the board of trustees must be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of the CMVS even if those decisions are not necessarily what Greenfield may desire. If contract(s) run between Greenfield and the CMVS, this autonomy will become even more critical because individuals who serve in roles for both entities may be precluded by state ethics restrictions from participating for either entity in certain matters.
The legislation requires Greenfield to submit information addressing all 39 of the elements required in G.L. c. 71, § 94(b). This is the information that the RFP seeks.
Q: How will ESE count students who enroll less than full time in a CMVS prior to the adoption of regulations? [This question is related to concerns about the "2% of enrolled students must come from Greenfield as the sponsoring district(s)" rule. The requirement for 80% of instruction to be virtual for a student to be counted as a virtual school student has been mooted by the statute's elimination of Virtual Innovation Schools.] Can and will ESE implement a similar rule or a new rule (e.g., an FTE model) for students that enroll less than full time. Would ESE apply the same rule to all students regardless of whether they enroll from within or out of district?
A: Only students enrolled in the CMVS as a full time (FTE) will count towards the 2% local enrollment requirement for Greenfield. A CMVS may offer individual courses for other students, including students enrolled in Greenfield, subject to any agreement reached between the CMVS and those districts. Students taking individual courses at a CMVS, however, are not students enrolled in the CMVS for which the CMVS will receive tuition.
A CMVS may enter into agreements with districts that allow students to take individual courses at the CMVS. Section 94(k) of G.L. c. 71 states that "[i]f a commonwealth virtual school offers online courses to students attending other schools, the commonwealth virtual school shall work with the student's district or school to determine whether the online courses meet the district's or school's standards and requirements and what the commonwealth virtual school will charge the student's district or school for such online courses."
Q: If a CMVS applicant plans to contract with a vendor that provides proprietary materials (e.g., curricula), will the applicant be required to include such materials in their proposal when such submissions are stipulated by the RFP? If yes, can we confirm that the reviewing staff will protect the confidential nature of such materials and that they will not be made public?
A: Yes. As part of the application process, materials including curricula must be provided for evaluation of the application. To the extent permitted by law, the Department will not disclose such information in response to requests for public records.
Q: Statute states (11) "a proposed arrangement or contract with an organization that shall manage or operate the school, including any proposed or agreed upon payments to such organization. " Does this establish any limit on ESE stipulating that a CMVS applicant must provide contract(s) for other than an EMO, such as any contract proposed or entered into with a content provider? [The RFP requires the submission of contracts beyond EMOs.]
A: In response to the RFP, applicants must submit proposed arrangements or contracts with any third party provider. Section 94(b)(10) of G.L. c. 71 requires the submission of "the identity of any third party software or curriculum vendors that the school intends to use. " To the extent that draft contracts are available for such vendors, they should be submitted.
Additionally, G.L. c. 71, § 94(b)(11), requires the submission of proposed arrangements or contracts with organizations that are anticipated to "manage or operate the school, including any proposed or agreed upon payments to such organizations. " This includes any subcontracts for managing or operating the school that may be entered into in connection with the primary contract.
Q: Can a CMVS contract with its own sponsoring district(s)/collaborative or another district for goods or services (including full or part time staff)?
A: Yes. A CMVS may contract with a school district for services. Such contracts necessarily limit membership on the board of trustees of the CMVS of individuals that hold a position with the contracting district. For additional information, see the response to question 5.
Q: How can a CMVS meet its non-discrimination responsibilities and at the same time prioritize enrollment of preferred populations identified by the statute? For example:
- If there is one seat available, can the CMVS prioritize it for a student from a target population or must be open to all students?
A: It depends upon how the target population is identified and whether such a classification is protected from discrimination. Without knowing the identity of the target population, it is difficult to answer this question with more specificity. In general, the virtual schools statute states that "the school shall conduct a lottery for admission if applications exceed enrollment capacity." G.L. c. 71, § 94(b)(9).
- Can the CMVS institute or be required to institute a lottery?
A: A CMVS must indicate any anticipated enrollment preferences in its response to the RFP. A CMVS must conduct a lottery if the number of students seeking admission exceeds the number of students who can be admitted.
Q: Can a CMVS refuse to enroll students whose families claim it would be discriminatory (e.g., for religious reasons) if their child was required to meet certain requirements that apply to all public school students such as taking the MCAS and/or be instructed in certain MA content standards?
A: No. A CMVS may not refuse to enroll a student because of a student's religious affiliation or religious beliefs. Such students, however, must participate in the education required by the public school and must take the MCAS.
Q: What flexibility can be afforded to a CMVS that can only find and contract with a teacher from out-of-state who is capable of providing instruction to a small number of students (e.g., who want to learn Swahili) but who is not licensed to teach in Massachusetts? Can the rules for reciprocity be broadened for a CMVS when a MA licensed educator is not available?
A: Section 94(i) of G.L. c. 71 requires a CMVS to hire teachers who have a Massachusetts educator license. A teacher licensed in another state, however, and has three years of experience under such license, may obtain a Massachusetts Temporary license. A Massachusetts Temporary license is valid for one year of employment. To be eligible for employment beyond one year, a teacher with a temporary license would have to obtain an Initial license by passing the requisite MTEL licensure tests.
Q: If a CMVS contracts for a specialty role like a psychologist who may serve very few students, is the CMVS required to follow the regulations for educator evaluation? If yes, wouldn't this only apply to roles that must be licensed?
A: A CMVS that hires a school psychologist would be required to follow the Educator Evaluation regulations with respect to that individual, regardless of the number of students the individual is serving. A school psychologist is a licensed position, pursuant to 603 CMR 7.04(3). The Educator Evaluation regulations require any person employed in a school district requiring a certificate or license to be evaluated in a manner consistent with the regulations.
Q: Need to confirm whether any courses beyond civics (US History) and physical education are required for graduation by the state?
A: United States history and physical education are required courses in Massachusetts. Additionally, the curriculum offered at a CMVS must be aligned with the Commonwealth's curriculum frameworks, and students must meet the competency determination standard by passing the MCAS in order to receive a high school diploma.
Q: If there is no start-up grant or provision, how does the school start, financially? What money does this new school have to do anything at all, such as pay staff for their work, put ads in the paper for enrollment, etc? There will be personnel and other costs over the summer when there are no students and there is no cache from which to draw funds.
A: The state does not have any funding for transition or startup grants for virtual schools. Similar to charter schools, a CMVS might apply for grants and receive start-up funding from a non-governmental resource either though cash advance or an in-kind contribution. Alternatively, the founding group might provide some startup support to the CMVS.
Q: The RFP seems to be missing a question about the mission of the proposed school.
A: The mission is covered in the Executive Summary (page 13): "Summarize the proposed school's mission, educational program, instructional methodology, services, how this potential school will enhance options for students, make online delivery as good as or better than face-to-face delivery, any specialized student focus, and the founding group's capacity to make the school a success."
Q: The RFP seems to be missing questions about the organization of the school by ages and grade and the estimate of total enrollment.
A: These topics are covered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School Applicant Information Sheet (page 14, question 1) in a simplified manner.
Q: The RFP seems to be missing a question about the timetable for admission.
A: This is intended to be covered in III.A. School Characteristics. It was inadvertently not called out as a separate item...
Q: The RFP seems to be missing a question about whether the virtual school will offer online courses.
A: This is covered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School Applicant Information Sheet (page 15, question 6) in a simplified manner.
Q: The following item in the RFP is confusing: "(39) Describe whether the school will establish personalized learning plans that are standards-based for every student. Describe how the learning plan will be developed for new students and available to receiving districts for students who transfer out of the virtual school." What is meant by "receiving districts"? The statute asks about personalized learning plans but "in conjunction with the school district of residence." Are the personalized learning plans required for every student, or just for special education students?
A: Because virtual schools are web based and can capture significantly more information about a student's progress measured against standards, all Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual Schools should be able to develop a "personalized learning plan" for every individual student, not just students on IEPs. If at any time a student chooses to transfer back into a brick and mortar school, there would be a personalized learning plan to better inform the new teachers of where the student is academically. This plan should reduce the amount of transition time so that more time is spent on learning. ESE will be providing more guidance on personalized learning plans in the future.
Q: The RFP's Section C: Student Services supports says that a virtual school "must enroll" students with ELL and special education needs. What does this mean? How could a non-English student participate unless all of the texts and materials were in every language and teachers of other languages were available for online coursework and support? Additionally, there might certain types of disabled children who could not function in this environment.
A: State and federal law prohibit discrimination against a number of classifications, including ELL students and students with special needs. A CMVS must recruit and admit all students in a non-discriminatory manner and may not consider these characteristics during the admission process. Once admitted, a CMVS must offer the services required for such students, either directly or through a vendor. A CMVS may not consider ELL status or a student's disabilities or otherwise prevent such students from enrolling.
Q: The question about evaluation (18) gives the impression a school can improvise teacher evaluation. Aren't all Massachusetts public school required to use the new evaluation system for teachers?
A: (Page 15, 9) The application does ask if the CMVS will use the Massachusetts Model System for Educator Evaluation. A CMVS is required to follow the Educator Evaluation Regulations, but a CMVS is not required to use the Model System. If you need more information on the requirements please contact ESE for a referral to an Education Evaluation expert. Once completed, the CMVS regulations will offer additional guidelines around this.
Q: Question (33) asks for communication mechanisms between the board of trustees, teachers and students. The Board generally doesn't have a direct role communicating with teachers or students because it has to be unbiased in the event of having to serve as an impartial hearing body. Is ESE advocating direct communication between the board and teachers and students?
A: The intent of the question is to address multiple communication channels including, but not limited to, communication between the Board of Trustees and school leaders, between school leaders and teachers, and between teachers and students. The intent was not to require the Board to communicate with a teacher or students inappropriately. The proposal should include all of the communication channels so that reviewers understand who is receiving what information, how frequently, and how is it tracked and shared.
Q: The statute (37) asks "WHETHER the school proposes a mechanism to provide meals to students eligible for free and reduced price lunch" and the RFP question asks "HOW the school plans to provide meals to students eligible for free and reduced price lunch." Wouldn't the cost would of setting up such a food service program be prohibitive? What is actually required of the CMVS?
A: ESE has modified the question to ensure it solicited necessary information and not merely a Yes/No answer. State law requires all public schools to make lunches available. G.L. c. 69, § 1C, and the CMVS statute did not waive this requirement. The Department's Nutrition, Health, and Safety unit is very skilled at providing creative solutions to complex meal delivery issues and can be reached at 781-338-6480 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The requirement is not to deliver a hamburger from Greenfield to Salem; more effective methods exist.