The VHS Collaborative. Guide to the Massachusetts Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act.

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1 The VHS Collaborative 2013 Guide to the Massachusetts Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act

2 The VHS Collaborative Guide to the Massachusetts Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act About this Guide The VHS Collaborative of Massachusetts is an educational nonprofit committed to expanding opportunities for students and teachers through collaborative online and blended education. We have prepared this guide to provide information to school districts about the Massachusetts Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act. This guide is informational only and is not a legal document of any kind. Please consult the Massachusetts General Code and seek legal advice for specifics of the law and how it may apply to your school, school district, or individual situation. This guide covers: Overview of the Act... 1 Impact on School Districts... 2 Proposal Process and Criteria... 3 Participation and Enrollment Limits... 4 Costs and Funding... 5 Academic Standards and Special Needs... 5 Oversight and Governance... 6 Overview of the Act What is the Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act? The Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act is a Massachusetts law that allows the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to authorize and oversee public virtual schools that enroll students from more than one school district. What is the purpose of the Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act? The act is intended to make more virtual school options available to Massachusetts public school students while providing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education more direction and authority for authorizing and overseeing these schools. When does the Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act take effect? The act was signed on January 2, 2013 and is effective for the school year. However, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will accept only the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield in the first year, with other proposals accepted for The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 1

3 What is a commonwealth virtual school? A commonwealth virtual school is a public school operated by a board of trustees whose teachers primarily teach from a remote location using the internet or other computer-based methods and whose students are not required to be located at the physical premises of the school. Impact on School Districts How does the Commonwealth Virtual Schools Act affect public school districts in Massachusetts? Students residing in public school districts may opt to attend a commonwealth virtual school through school choice. Commonwealth virtual schools offer districts more options for supporting the needs of their students, but districts will also lose state funding and control over the quality of the education provided to their students by commonwealth virtual schools. May school districts offer their own online options to their students? School districts and education collaboratives may continue to offer part-time and full-time online options to their own students. School districts that create full-time virtual schools for their own students must submit a proposal for review and comment by the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. May commonwealth virtual schools provide online courses to school districts? Commonwealth virtual schools may provide online courses to school districts. If 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. The commonwealth virtual school and the student s school or district will agree on the prices paid to the commonwealth virtual school for online courses. What information will be provided to districts about available online courses? The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education must identify and publish information on online courses that are aligned with state academic standards. The list must be reviewed and updated annually. School districts may use other online courses not identified by the commissioner. May students take some or all of their classes online through their own school district? Students may take some or all of their classes online when classes are offered or approved by the school the student attends or by an education collaborative in which the student s school district participates. If a single school district creates a virtual school that enrolls only students residing in the school district, the district must submit a summary description of the proposed virtual school to the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education for review and comment at least 4 months in advance of the opening of the virtual school. The commissioner will provide written comments on the proposal to the district s school committee. These virtual schools are not counted in the number allowed by the act. The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 2

4 Proposal Process and Criteria What is the process for submitting and approving proposals for commonwealth virtual The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must issue an RFP each year by October 1 for the following school year, provided that there are openings available for new commonwealth virtual schools. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will establish procedures for accepting proposals and awarding certificates. The board must hold a hearing on the proposals and must only award certificates to qualified applicants. What information must be included in a commonwealth virtual school proposal? The act specifies 39 terms and conditions that must be addressed in the proposal and will be incorporated into the certificate of operation for any schools that are approved. The terms and conditions include information such as the mission, purpose, specialized focus, and academic offerings of the proposed school, the admission policies, how the school will be organized, and how it will support and meet the needs of students. What are the criteria that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must use in selecting commonwealth virtual When considering proposals, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must select proposals that are submitted by qualified applicants give preference to proposals that include an educational program or specialized focus that appropriately addresses specific student needs, and consider whether proposed schools will create or enhance the opportunity for students to attend virtual schools in all grades from kindergarten through grade 12. What educational programs or specialized focus are the commonwealth virtual schools intended to address? The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must give preference to proposals that include an educational program or specialized focus that appropriately addresses one or more of the following: students with physical or other challenges that make it difficult for them to physically attend a school students with medical needs requiring a home or hospital setting students with unusual needs requiring a flexible schedule students who are over-age for their grade students who have been expelled students who have dropped out students at risk of dropping out students who are pregnant or have a child students with social and emotional challenges that make it difficult for them to physically attend a school The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 3

5 students who feel bullied or cannot attend school because the students safety is at risk gifted and talented students students who seek academic work not available in their school students in rural communities students in institutionalized settings Who can submit a proposal to establish a commonwealth virtual school? Proposals to establish a commonwealth virtual school may be submitted by 1 or more school districts an education collaborative an institution of higher education a non-profit entity 2 or more certified teachers, or parents. Only school districts and education collaboratives are eligible to apply for certificates of organization to operate through the school years Private and parochial schools and for-profit entities are not eligible to submit a proposal. Participation and Enrollment Limits How many commonwealth virtual schools can be created under the act? The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can authorize up to 10 commonwealth virtual schools, but no more than 3 for the school years 3 additional for the school years, and 4 additional for the school year. If the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield submits a proposal, the school must be granted one of the certificates for the school years. Can school districts limit the number of their students that attend commonwealth virtual A school committee may vote to restrict enrollment of its students in commonwealth virtual schools if the total enrollment of its students in commonwealth virtual schools exceeds 1 percent of the total enrollment in its district. However, no student enrolled in a commonwealth virtual school can be compelled to withdraw as a result of that vote. May any student attend a commonwealth virtual school? All Massachusetts students are eligible to attend commonwealth virtual schools, but each school will have a unique focus on the student populations it serves, as well as its own admissions policies and The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 4

6 practices. Some students may not be eligible to attend a commonwealth virtual school if the school committee in their local school district votes to restrict enrollments in commonwealth virtual schools to no more than 1 percent of their total student population. Is there a limit to how many students in Massachusetts may attend commonwealth virtual The total number of full-time students attending commonwealth virtual schools is limited to 2 percent of the total number of students attending public schools in the commonwealth. Is there a minimum requirement for the portion of students that must be from the local school district? In the case of a commonwealth virtual school that is established by a school district or a collaborative of school districts, not less than 5 percent of the students enrolled in the commonwealth virtual school must be from the school district or districts in the collaborative that established the school. For the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield, not less than 2 percent of the students enrolled in the school shall be from the Greenfield school district. Costs and Funding How are commonwealth virtual schools funded? Commonwealth virtual schools are funded through the Massachusetts school choice program. Currently, the district where the student resides is charged 75% (capped at $5000 in 2012) of the perchild cost. The charges are deducted and paid from state aid amounts. Is there a cost for students to attend commonwealth virtual Commonwealth virtual schools are public schools. There is no cost for Massachusetts students to attend. Academic Standards and Special Needs Do requirements for a minimum number of hours or days each school year apply to commonwealth virtual The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may waive requirements that students who attend a commonwealth virtual school attend school for a minimum number of hours or days each school year and may permit students to earn credits by demonstrating competency in a grade or subject matter. Do MCAS and other academic standards apply to students in commonwealth virtual Students in commonwealth virtual schools must meet the same academic standards, testing and portfolio requirements set by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for students in other public schools. The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 5

7 Are there any requirements about student/teacher interaction in commonwealth virtual To ensure that students are learning and demonstrating their knowledge, each commonwealth virtual school must ensure that students are provided, in each credit-bearing course, multiple synchronous learning opportunities with their teachers in which students are required to participate and share their knowledge. How do commonwealth virtual schools meet the needs of students with special needs? Commonwealth virtual schools must comply with chapter 71B regarding special needs. However, the fiscal responsibility for a student with a disability enrolled in or determined to require a private day or residential school shall remain with the school district where the student resides. Do Massachusetts teacher certification requirements apply to commonwealth virtual Commonwealth virtual schools may only hire teachers who meet Massachusetts teacher certification requirements. Oversight and Governance Who is responsible for selecting and regulating commonwealth virtual The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education selects and oversees commonwealth virtual schools. How long are certificates to operate a commonwealth virtual school valid? A certificate to operate a commonwealth virtual school will be for 3 to 5 years, as determined by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. What are the procedures and guidelines for amending, revoking, and renewing commonwealth virtual school certificates? The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will develop procedures and guidelines for amending, revoking, and renewing a virtual school's certificate. When deciding on certificate renewal, the board must consider progress made in student academic achievement and whether the school has met its obligations and commitments under the certificate. What is the Digital Learning Advisory Council? The Digital Learning Advisory Council will advise the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding virtual schools supplemental online courses education technology best practices to encourage online education to complement classroom instruction in district schools The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 6

8 the appropriateness of the fee that the department may retain for the administration of the virtual school program, and other matters related to virtual education. Who are the members of the Digital Learning Advisory Council? The Digital Learning Advisory Council will consist of 15 members recommended by the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. Members include representatives from American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts Teachers Association Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Massachusetts Association of School Committees Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators The VHS Collaborative a non-profit organization that conducts research and training related to online education an institution of higher education that provides online education for K-12 students, and a parent of a student who attends a commonwealth virtual school full-time. For more information, contact us at or or visit The VHS Collaborative This guide may be copied and distributed in its original format. Page 7

9 4 Clock Tower Place, Suite 510 Maynard, MA Ph:

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

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