Within less than a month, the administration at both Naperville School Districts 203 and 204 must decide whether or not to offer an online charter school to their students.
The not-for-profit Virtual Learning Solutions is seeking to create an online charter school for kindergarten through 12th grade students within 18 suburbs, including Naperville.
Both School Districts 203 and 204 held a public hearing to see how the community felt about offering a web-based substitute to local students.
“I think this is a wonderful system,” said Naperville resident Karen Roland. “I think giving parents a choice for an alternative school makes a lot of sense.”
If approved, a for-profit corporation, K-12 will manage the daily operations of the program, called The Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley.
Tuition would be free for families, but likely cost each district $8,000 a head, though it is negotiable.
While the school would be open to all students, company representatives said at the hearings they expect 75 children per district to enroll.
Those who would benefit include athletes in training, students with health issues, and those with learning disabilities.
“We have a lot of kids with ADHD and sitting for 45 minutes in a classroom is very difficult for them,” Peter Stewart, Senior Vice President of School Development for K-12. “With an online charter school, if you want to take a break after 10 minutes, you can take a break and come back.”
“Every child approaches learning in different ways and so this allows a new opportunity for students to learn,” said Zach Wasilew, Vice President of Blended Schools Planning and Operations for K-12.
Still, the idea didn’t sit well with many parents.
“The human element of Naperville schools cannot be replaced online,” said Carol Higgins. “Every child needs to have someone in the morning say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ And if they’re not doing okay, find out why.”
“Charter schools are notorious for deleting bad grades, for removing records, for dismissing kids that give them a bad perception,” said Keith Klingeman.
“My concern is that in the pursuit of seeking profits in order to meet the demands of K12 investors, the students of district 203 are going to be short-changed,” said Dave Madsen.
The superintendents at both 203 and 204 say they’re not jumping to any conclusions and still have many questions that need answering before the boards can decide.
“I believe in online learning. I just think you have to be careful with how you mix that and what support students feel,” said Kathy Birkett, Superintendent for School District 204.
All districts involved have 30 days after the public hearing to decide if they’ll accept a five-year contract for the charter school. If turned down, Virtual Learning Solutions plans to appeal to the Illinois State Charter Commission.
District 203 plans to vote on the measure at their April 15th meeting while District 204 expects to make their decision on April 8th.
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