Q: What is an online school?
A: In Ohio, an online school (a.k.a. “virtual school” or “e-school”) is a type of community school, meaning that it is a non-profit, non-sectarian school that operates independently of any traditional school district. Online schools have existed in Ohio since 2000. These schools typically accept students from across the state because there are no district boundaries as with traditional schools. Students of online schools may attend class from a home computer or may use a local computer lab or classroom established by the online school. Like all community schools, online schools must operate under a contract with a non-profit sponsoring entity, which could be a traditional school district or an educational service center.
Q: How are online schools approved to operate?
A: Online schools must be approved to operate (“chartered”) by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). As of 2013, the ODE approves no more than five new online schools each year. The ODE’s criteria for approval is based largely on the proposed sponsor’s experience in education and the quality of education that the ODE determines the school’s proposed sponsor and/or operator is able to provide. If approved, an online school must continue to comply with the standards for operation adopted by the ODE. The online school must also abide by the contract with its sponsoring entity.
Q: How are online schools funded?
A: Online schools, like other community schools, are publically funded. They receive per-pupil foundation payments from the ODE for regular and special education students enrolled in the school. Online schools are also eligible for federal funding and private grants. Online schools do not receive real estate tax revenues like traditional school districts.
Q: Are online school teachers licensed?
A: Yes. Online school teachers must comply with all of the ODE’s certification and licensing requirements, although teachers may teach outside of their areas of certification. Most online school administrators do not have to be licensed, however.
Q: Must online school students take the same tests Ohio requires for public school students?
A: Yes. Online school students must take all state-required tests, including diagnostic assessments, proficiency tests, the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) and the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT).
Q: How is online schooling different from home schooling?
A: Although online school students may actually do the majority or even all of their school work at home, they are not considered to be “home schooled.” Rather, home schooled students are students excused from attending their traditional school district so they can receive instruction from a parent or guardian. To be approved for home instruction, the parent/guardian directing the home education must provide certain assurances to the superintendent of the traditional school district about his/her ability to teach effectively. The parent or guardian must teach certain core subjects, including but not limited to history, government, language, reading, writing, mathematics, science, health, physical education and the fine arts. Each home-schooled student must also be provided a minimum of 900 hours of education each school year. Once approved for home schooling by the superintendent, the parent/guardian selects the educational materials and takes responsibility for educating the student.
One important difference between online schooling and home schooling is that students who graduate from online schools receive diplomas that are recognized by the State Board of Education, while home-schooled students do not. This is not to say that home schooled students cannot receive credit for their previous education or continue to college. Colleges, universities and employers have discretion in deciding whether to accept credits or credentials issued by a home-schooled student.
Another difference surfaced with a law enacted in the fall of 2013 that requires traditional public school districts to give home-schooled students residing in the district the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities offered by the district. This same opportunity to participate is currently not offered to students attending online schools. However, online schools may offer their own extracurricular activities and social opportunities for their students.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Mark A. Weiker, a member of the Columbus firm, Means, Bichimer, Burkholder & Baker Co., LPA, and the OSBA Education Law Committee.