Iowa AG rules in favor of virtual academies

A few weeks ago, we blogged about the two new virtual academies planning to open in fall 2012. While they were recruiting students and making plans for their first school year, opponents asked the Iowa Attorney General to review state law to ensure the legality of the virtual academies. The Attorney General issued his opinion on March 12, 2012 that the online academies are permissible under state law. In the ruling, he noted:

“It could be argued that internet learning was not envisioned when the legislation was passed in 1987 and that the privatization of public elementary and secondary education is such a significant step that new legislation is necessary. While these are significant arguments, in our opinion they are outweighed by the clear and broad language of the authorization in the statute.”

The ruling also notes restrictions imposed by the statute: that the curriculum must be taught by an appropriately licensed teacher, and that the curriculum received at the remote site must be under the supervision of a licensed teacher, although the supervision at the remote site may be provided by the licensed teacher at the originating site.

The ruling addresses the fact that through Chapter 15 school districts are prohibited from using telecommunication as the only means of providing any course required for accreditation. This can be interpreted that a school district may not only provide a required course through telecommunications, but must also provide it through a different delivery method for students who do not wish to take it online. It could also be interpreted that a particular course may not only be delivered through telecommunications. The ruling expresses the concern that a course taught online must include all of the components of a traditional classroom course, and that for “open enrollment students the local school would not be able to assist in activities that would help to meet this requirement.”