As previously discussed on our blog, § 161.670, RSMo., which is the Missouri Course Access Program (MoCAP) statute, requires school districts adopt policies outlining their process for enrolling in virtual courses and appealing the district’s decision that enrolling in the course is not in the student’s “best educational interest.”
There are some suggested or form policies and regulations (referred to hereafter solely as “policies”) currently available to districts for adoption in order to fulfill the policy requirement under the new MoCAP law; however, we caution school districts to thoroughly read and carefully consider any form MoCAP policy before they adopt one.
In order to aid in this process, we have reviewed some of the proposed policies and have made recommendations to districts regarding changes that may be beneficial or necessary before they are adopted by those districts’ respective boards. Specifically, while our recommended changes have centered on each district’s unique needs, more importantly, our recommendations have been based on whether certain sections of those policies align to requirements within the new law.
We have outlined some of our more common recommended changes below.
- Discretion Regarding Good Cause. As a general rule, the form policies we have reviewed did not outline for districts what may be considered “good cause” to deny enrollment in MoCAP courses. (One policy calls this determination a “good faith” determination; however, the statutory term is a “good cause” determination.) Although it is likely that districts will need to make a determination regarding what is in a student’s best educational interest on a case-by-case basis, districts do have the ability to deny enrollment requests for good cause, and setting forth specific factors within its policy may aid in that determination. Some factors a district may consider include, but are not limited to, the student’s ability to work independently, operate technology, the student’s attendance, their success in virtual courses in the past, etc. Whether these factors would weigh in favor of a denial depends on the particular student; however, the district has the ability to deny if it believes it is not in the student’s best educational interest for the student to take virtual courses or a particular virtual course. We have modified some districts’ policies to include factors the district may consider when making its good cause determination, in order to provide districts a framework of considerations when enrolling students in virtual courses.
- Denials of Enrollment for Special Education Students. One policy states that if a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines virtual courses would not be appropriate for the student, the student’s only recourse would be to appeal through the special education process, meaning to file for a Due Process Hearing or to file a Child Complaint; however, the MoCAP statute specifically allows students an appeal to the district’s board of education. The statute does not contemplate limiting a student’s right to that appeal process if he or she is a student with a disability. Additionally, disallowing a student’s right to the statutorily-mandated appeal to the district’s board of education could put the district at risk of drawing a discrimination complaint because the district does not allow an appeal process for students with disabilities that is available to students without disabilities. While an appeal through the special education process may be warranted, we believe special education students should also have access to the board appeal if they are denied access to virtual courses. As such, we have modified language in this policy to reflect the appeals process for all students as set forth in the MoCAP statute.
- Paying Course Fees for Transfer and Enrolled Students. The new MoCAP statute includes specific provisions regarding MoCAP course fees and how and when districts are required to pay them. One policy in particular explains portions of the fee structure outlined in statute, but does not explain the entire fee structure for course payment, which could be confusing to districts who are relying on their policies to guide them when paying fees. For example, the policy does not include a qualifier that fees are prorated based on a student’s completion of coursework, that payments stop if the students drop the course, or complete information related to maximum course fees being limited by the state adequacy target. We recommend including the entire fee structure within a district’s policy if fees are mentioned, or instead relying on the statute when structuring payment for course fees. Additionally, one policy provides that K-8 districts must pay for virtual course fees for all students in its district, which is not specifically contemplated within the statute. The policy also states that “home school and private students” who take courses beyond their regular course load will enroll at their own expense. Home school and private school students are not eligible to take MoCAP courses at a district’s expense unless they meet eligibility requirements, including being enrolled full-time in a public school district for at least one semester immediately preceding enrollment in MoCAP courses. We have modified these portions of the policy to match language within the MoCAP statute.
- Providing Equipment or Internet Access. The language of one policy makes it seem like any student with a disability is entitled to computers, equipment and internet access when they enroll in MoCAP courses. We have modified this to explain that districts are required to provide to students with disabilities equipment and/or internet access if required by their IEPs or Section 504 Plans, as stated in statute and federal law.
We have recommended other changes based on the language of the new statute, but the above modifications outline the majority of the edits we recommend districts make to their form policies. Other changes can be made based on a district’s unique needs and its vision for its virtual education program. Please feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to modify your own policies, or if you have questions about the MoCAP program itself.