Miami Valley residents react to ECOT online school closing

(WCMH/WDTN) — The sponsor of ECOT voted Thursday to close the charter school, effective Friday.

The closure was forced by a 3-0 vote of the board of Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West in Toledo, the Plain Dealer reported.

ECOT, in a release posted on social media, blamed the Ohio Department of Education for the closure.

The statement reads in part:

Thousands of students, including 2,287 graduation-eligible seniors, find themselves without a school tomorrow as the Ohio Department of Education forced the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to close its doors on 12,000 students without warning. ODE Chief Legal Counsel Diane Lease informed ECOT’s sponsor, The ESC of Lake Erie West, that the Department was considering the “final offer” made by ECOT last night, thereby averting the pending termination vote, but ODE chose at the last minute to reject the offer in favor of termination.

That means families of the roughly 12,000 Ohio students from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow are scrambling to arrange other schooling options.

“They wanted to try and maintain the school through the end of the school year. That didn’t happen,” said Tina Chaney, a parent with a student that was enrolled with ECOT.

“My Daughter was in a panic. She had worked so hard to graduate a year early. Me being the mom. I put on a brave face and said we’ll find a solution,” said Chaney.

Thousands of parents are now scrambling to find a solution for their kids.

“As far as I know. It impacted over 12,000 people. I’m just one of those people. It’s devastating. It really is. As a mom how do you fix it?” said Chaney.

Dayton Public Schools said in a statement; “We welcome all ECOT students and look forward to offering the best of DPS academics.”

The publicly funded e-school has been running out of money amid a legal dispute with the state. ECOT’s closure shifted from a possibility to a reality when the required oversight entity known as its sponsor decided Thursday to suspend that arrangement. ECOT says the state rejected a proposal from the e-school that was aimed at keeping it open through the spring.

Ohio’s public school districts would have to accept any returning local ECOT students, but some families refuse to go back to those schools. Some are considering other virtual schools or homeschooling.

Many of the roughly 12,000 students turned to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow because of illnesses, disabilities, bullying or other struggles that made traditional school environments challenging or impossible. The uncertainty over the school’s future amid a dispute with the state has added adversity as students, parents and teachers try to make backup plans halfway through the school year.

ECOT has warned for months that it’s running out of money because of state efforts to recoup $60 million in disputed funding, but the possibility of a mid-year closure became more imminent when its sponsor — an entity that provides oversight — moved to cut ties last week, citing the e-school’s financial troubles. It can’t operate without a sponsor.

The country had about 278,000 students enrolled in full-time online schools in 2015-16, according to the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, and other groups put the estimate higher. Most of those students are in charters, not district-run schools.

The state of Ohio says ECOT didn’t sufficiently document student participation, but ECOT says officials wrongly changed criteria to adjust funding.

Ohio’s Department of Education says that no ECOT student should feel pressured to drop out of school altogether and that it’s prepared to help families identify other options.

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