Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Education

Whistle-blower contradicts charter school

Email, audio state truant students remain at Ohio Virtual Academy

Evidence provided to The Blade appears to contradict public statements made this week by an online charter school that it withdraws all chronically truant students who have no legitimate excuse for being absent.

State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) said this week an anonymous whistle-blower had sent lawmakers a list of hundreds of students who were designated as truant at Maumee-based Ohio Virtual Academy, yet had not been removed from its enrollment lists. Under state law, charter schools must withdraw students who miss 105 consecutive hours without a legitimate excuse. Not withdrawing those students would arbitrarily boost attendance figures, by which charter schools are paid in state funds.

School officials say the allegations are “totally and categorically false.” But both an email and audio recording provided to The Blade appears to show that OVA set a cutoff date of April 6 for truancy withdrawals, and that no students would be taken off their attendance rolls after that date, regardless of the reason.

The audio recording is of a conference call that appears to be led by Kathy Pine, instructional coordinator at the school. In the April 6 call, she tells staff members that the school would not be approving any truancy withdrawals after that day, so they needed to turn in their withdrawal requests. She followed up that call with an email to staff on April 21.

“Even if it is one that was posted prior to 4/​6 or if it was approved previously. ... If the child was not withdrawn by now they will not be,” Ms. Pine writes.

In the call, a woman who identifies herself as “Heidi” emphasizes that truancy withdrawals for special education students would not be approved for any reason.

Head of School Kristin Stewart said the email and audio aren’t what they seem. The school has both the automatic withdrawals as provided by law, and a more discretionary process for chronically truant students who haven’t technically hit the 105-hour mark.

It was for the latter cases that the school ended withdrawals on April 6, she said.

She acknowledged that the email is definitive that no more withdrawals would be approved, but Ms. Stewart insisted that the school had in fact withdrawn more than 90 students since that April 6 deadline.

“I can’t speak to why it was so definitively stated. I can only speak to my directives,” she said. “Everyone knows that if we have someone that is legally at 105 consecutive hours with no excused absences, they have to be withdrawn.”

Ms. Stewart also said that the school does not report nonattendance hours to the state, thus the school does not get paid for any hours a student does not attend school. If a student is truant but not withdrawn, the school still wouldn’t be receiving state funds for that student.

The Ohio Department of Education forwarded the initial report to the Ohio Council of Community Schools to investigate; staff said they are currently conducting that investigation.

Lenny Schafer, the executive director, refused to be interviewed Wednesday. The Ohio Council of Community Schools has oversight of the school’s operations.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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