Tennessee Parents File Lawsuit Against Department of Education to Save Their Public Virtual School

Subjected to unfair accountability scheme, TNVA is only Level 1 school ordered to close

Mar 12, 2015, 18:45 ET from PublicSchoolOptions.org

NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 12, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Tennessee parents today filed a lawsuit to protect their children's public virtual school, Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), which has been illegally ordered to close at the end of the school year by the Tennessee Department of Education. A copy of the parent lawsuit, assigned docket number 15-307-I, which is being supported by PublicSchoolOptions.org (PSO), can be found at www.PublicSchoolOptions.org/Tennessee.

The lawsuit contends the Tennessee Department of Education exceeded its authority in ordering the school's closure. It asks the court to intervene and declare that the Commissioner cannot order any virtual schools closed until after the 2015-2016 school year, as intended by the law, and that the Commissioner cannot require that virtual schools reach higher achievement levels than what the law set forth.  This is especially important to Plaintiffs when their school, TNVA, has significantly improved its academic outcomes from 2013 to 2014 and showed  the most improvement of over 125 schools that received a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years.

"PSO is proud to support the brave families who came forward to file this lawsuit and all parents of virtual public students in Tennessee who have found a school in TNVA that is literally changing the lives of their children for the better," said Beth Purcell, president of PSO, a national alliance of parents that supports and defends parents' rights to access the best public school options for their children. "The law is clear that the Tennessee Department of Education exceeded its authority in ordering the school closed. It's truly sad that bureaucrats want to close a school that parents and children are fighting so hard to keep open. TNVA's children are public school students, too, and deserve equal treatment under the law. We support Gov. Haslam, and we remain hopeful that he will help these families by forcing the department to rescind its order to close the school."

The filing comes after an analysis by PSO found the Union County public virtual school showed the best improvement of over 125 schools that received a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years. After Union County opened the school in 2011, and worked to transition students to an online learning model, the department's own data reveals TNVA began significantly improving its student outcomes from 2013 to 2014. In fact, last year TNVA realized improvements seven times greater than similarly rated schools, despite facing several unique challenges, including serving a higher percentage of special education and low-income students than the state average.

Based on an analysis of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) of more than 125 schools with a Level 1 rating in each of the last three years:

  • 36 schools declined from 2012 to 2014;
  • 92 of the schools improved, by an average of 5.19 points, from 2012 to 2014; and
  • TNVA showed the largest improvement of 36.31 points – seven times higher than the average.

Despite the fact that TNVA is one of the fastest improving public schools in the state, it's the only school that was ordered by the state to close. This is the result of the Department of Education's arbitrary and capricious accountability structure, one that was enacted only after the school's first year and used in a punitive manner, rather than to improve schools as intended by the legislature. Unlike TNVA, all remaining Level 1 schools in Tennessee most likely received support and funds from the state due to their ratings and inclusion in the state's normal, well-established accountability system.

TNVA is a public school run by Union County Public Schools and ultimately reports to the elected Union County school board. Fifteen percent of TNVA students receive special education services, and 74 percent of its families qualify for free/reduced lunches, according to Union County.

For many families, TNVA, the state's only full-time, K-8 statewide online public school, is the lone school that fits the needs of their children. Last month, hundreds of students and educators descended on the state Capitol to express their support for protecting the right of parents to choose the school that works best for their children.

There are 1,300 unique students and 1,300 unique stories as to how and why TNVA is working to meet student and family needs – students who are excelling or who are far behind; students with significant and, in some cases, debilitating or even life-threatening illnesses; students who have been threatened or bullied; students with special needs, including many students with autism, who find it difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom.

PublicSchoolOptions.org is a national alliance of over 60,000 parents that supports and defends parents' rights to access the best public school options for their children. The coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs.  Additionally, we advocate for equal access without restrictions to the school that best suits the individual student's learning needs, whether it is public, non-public or home-based.

For more information on families and the Tennessee chapter of PublicSchoolOptions.org please visit: http://www.publicschooloptions.org/tennessee/.

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SOURCE PublicSchoolOptions.org