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Published: Wednesday, 11/29/2006

Charter schools get attendance warning

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Eleven Ohio charter schools, including Aurora Academy in East Toledo and a Maumee-based online school, have been warned by the state to accurately record student attendance or risk losing some public funding.

The 11 schools, nine of which are online schools where students work on computers at home, have been ordered by the Ohio Department of Education to explain why they reported 100 percent attendance for the 2005-06 school year while also reporting students removed or withdrawn for chronic truancy. Each school must file a corrective plan to deal with the reporting problems by the close of the business day Jan. 10 or face a reduction in state funding.

"We are very concerned about this," said J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "It didn't make sense to have 100 percent attendance if you have students withdrawing for truancy."

The department started the investigation after some of the schools told the state they had not counted students expelled for chronic truancy, which means a student was absent for at least 21 days.

Cindy Wilson, executive director of Aurora Academy, said she fired a Columbus-based company that had handled the school's official reporting to the state.

"We have gone back and looked and our attendance was about 92.8 percent," she said. "We had no withdrawals because of truancy."

Falling below 93 percent attendance means Aurora could lose credit for attendance as an accomplished state standard - the only state "indicator" the school met for the 2005-06 school year. As a result, the academy could face a downgrade by the state from an A-level school to a lower rating.

Officials for Ohio Virtual Academy, a 3,800-student online school based in Maumee, said they had 86 students withdrawn due to truancy. The Ohio Department of Education yesterday said it had 98.

"Most of those students were not enrolled during the accountability period in October when the official count is made," said school leader Susan Stagner. She said reporting errors were made involving nine students, and that the school's attendance rate for last year was actually 99.97 percent.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow or ECOT, the state's largest online charter school with 6,600 students last school year, could lose about $4 million, Mr. Benton said.

The Columbus-based Internet school expelled 1,946 students last year, yet reported 100 percent attendance to the state Department of Education.

Ms. Stagner at Ohio Virtual Academy noted that calculating attendance at Internet schools is different from attendance taken at "brick-and-mortar schools" because students can work online 24 hours a day.

Students at Internet schools must perform 920 hours of work a year to earn perfect attendance, she said. Traditional public schools calculate attendance by dividing the number of days each student shows up for school by the total days in the school year.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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