Districts are not Required to Enroll Students in, or Pay for, Virtual Classes That are Not MOCAP Approved, such as MOVA

In recent days, many districts have begun receiving requests from students requesting to enroll in virtual courses that are not MOCAP-approved courses, and in particular from the Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA). This blog post is meant to provide guidance to districts that receive requests of this type.

As you are likely aware, the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (“MOCAP”) was enacted during the 2018 legislative session and gives students the affirmative right to enroll in virtual courses that are approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”), unless the course is not in the student’s “best educational interest,” as determined by district administration. If a MOCAP course is not a in a student’s best educational interest, a denial of enrollment affords the student and his or her family the ability to appeal that decision to the district’s board of education, and then on to DESE.

MOCAP courses are thoroughly vetted and are only approved by DESE if they meet state standards for content and instruction. A current list of the approved MOCAP vendors and courses is located at this link: https://mocap.mo.gov/catalog/. Despite language to the contrary included in a form letter that MOVA is currently circulating to many districts, MOVA is not currently a MOCAP-approved vendor and does not offer any MOCAP-approved courses.   A sample of that letter is available here: http://edcounsel.law/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/MOVA-letter.pdf.

MOCAP is not the only way a school district can offer virtual courses to its students, but it is the program through which a student has an affirmative right to take virtual courses or attend school virtually, unless doing so is not in the student’s “best educational interest.”

Specifically, § 162.1250, RSMo. gives Missouri school districts the ability to contract with virtual course vendors to provide virtual courses to that district’s students if they would like to, as outlined in the district’s agreement with the vendor. In that instance, the school district itself is on the hook to be sure that each course and its instructor meet state standards and certification requirements. Under an agreement with a vendor as described in § 162.1250, RSMo., the district has more leeway to determine when a course may benefit a student and when a course is or is not appropriate because the student has no affirmative statutory right to take virtual courses that are outside of MOCAP. Additionally, the appeal rights outlined in MOCAP do not apply to virtual courses under § 162.1250, RSMo. if the vendor is not a MOCAP-approved vendor and the specific course is not a MOCAP-approved course.

The agreements outlined in § 162.1250, RSMo. can also include cooperative agreements in the form of Memoranda of Understanding (“MOU”) between two Missouri school districts if one district offers virtual courses or virtual school programs and the other district would like its students to have access to these courses. These agreements would be required only in instances where the receiving district, meaning the district offering the virtual courses, is not a MOCAP-approved vendor, and/or a particular course offered by the receiving district is not a MOCAP-approved course, which includes MOVA. Any agreements of this type should require that the receiving district ensure that its course offerings align with the Missouri learning standards and that the instructors of the courses are properly certificated teachers under Missouri law. Students of the sending district would then be able to enroll in the course offerings and/or school programs as outlined within the cooperative agreement. The enrollment process described in the cooperative agreement could include a description of the enrollment process, including when a student might not be allowed to enroll in a virtual course or program. As described above, though, the appeal rights in MOCAP do not apply to virtual courses in this instance, and the “best educational interest” determination is not required because neither the course nor the vendor are MOCAP-approved.

If a district receives a request from a student to enroll in a virtual course that is not a MOCAP-approved course, such as courses offered by MOVA, the district has the following options:

  • Enroll the student in the course at the district’s expense if an agreement with the vendor (including Missouri school districts offering virtual courses or programs) exists as outlined in § 162.1250, RSMo., or the district chooses to create one with the vendor, and the class or program aligns with that agreement and it is appropriate for the student; or
  • Deny the student the ability to enroll in the course at the district’s expense if no agreement exists, or the class or program falls outside an existing agreement.

 

As long as the course is not a MOCAP-approved course given by a MOCAP-approved vendor, then the student does not have the ability to appeal a district’s decision to deny the student’s enrollment in the course at the district’s expense to the district’s board of education, unless an appeals process exists in the district for such denials for courses of this type. This is also contrary to the form letter MOVA has been providing to districts.

We recommend following the district’s past practice when deciding whether to enroll students in virtual courses to ensure that the district uses consistent practices when processing enrollment requests. This is especially important should a request come from a student eligible for special education, and the analysis may change if the student’s IEP or 504 team has recommended enrollment in these courses, or included a virtual course within a student’s IEP or 504 Plan.

The above explains when a district may be required to pay for virtual courses, but nothing would prevent a student from enrolling in a MOVA course, or another non-MOCAP course, at his or her own expense, even without the district’s approval. In that case, the district would have the ability to determine how to award course credit for that course once the student has completed it, according to its procedures for awarding transfer credits to students who take courses outside the district.

Ultimately, though, if a district has an agreement with a virtual schools vendor another school district-vendor for virtual coursework, the district should follow that plan in determining when to approve a student’s request for enrollment. If a district does not have an agreement with a virtual schools vendor or school district-vendor to provide virtual classes to its students, and the course and/or vendor is not approved by DESE as part of MOCAP, the district is not required to approve, or pay for, virtual courses taught by that vendor or district, including MOVA.

DESE has provided additional guidance on MOCAP courses and non-MOCAP virtual education courses at this link: https://mocap.mo.gov/districts.html.

If you would like to discuss your district’s virtual course offerings or have questions regarding responding to requests for enrollment in virtual courses, please feel free to reach out to one of our team members at EdCounsel!