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Proposed education rule 'detrimental' to Oklahoma's all-virtual alternative school

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The State Board of Education is weighing a proposed administrative rule that would require in-person attendance for alternative education schools. And for Insight School of Oklahoma — the state’s only all-virtual, alternative education charter school — that could spell disaster.

That’s because the rule would require its students to show up in-person for class for at least four hours and 12 minutes everyday.

For the 1,100 students across the state the school serves, Insight Head of School Jennifer Wilkinson said the flexibility of the all-virtual school is especially important for alternative education students, many of whom have circumstances like jobs or parenting that interfere with physically coming to school.

“It would take away a flexibility that a number of our students… in our school do count on to be able to fulfill their obligations in their community, their work and with their families, as well as continuing to work towards their high school diploma,” Wilkinson said. “It would be detrimental to 1,100 students who are currently with us.”

Wilkinson said Insight holds class from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and offers synchronous and asynchronous learning. She says many students work during the day, so this flexibility allows those students to continue earning high school credits.

Alternative education schools serve students in myriad situations, Wilkinson said. Some of Insight’s students have suffered bullying at other schools, some students are pregnant or already parents, some have mental and physical needs that weren’t being met in a traditional school setting and some dropped out of high school but returned to Insight to finish it.

Wilkinson said not only is requiring students to be at a physical location untenable from the students’ standpoint, but it’s also not feasible as an institution that serves students statewide. Wilkinson says Insight’s students reside in nearly all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. She says it’s not financially viable to set up and run all of those sites.

Insight already does in-person state testing, which Wilkinson said is a costly feat.

“We are renting venues across the state. Our faculty and staff are traveling across the state because it is not always feasible for our families to come close to us and in one location,” Wilkinson said. “And so I just can’t imagine that — that we do an in-person [setting] on a daily basis for our families.”

According to the proposed administrative rule’s impact statement, the intent of it is to “comply with the best practices for alternative education.” But Wilkinson disagrees that requiring in-person learning is “best practice.”

“If the last few years has taught us anything, it’s that ‘best practice’ is around putting those structures in place to be able to support students. The last few years, telemed, telehealth, tele-mental health, has really been very impactful, especially in rural areas where those resources have been limited,” Wilkinson said. “We are starting to recognize that there is a place for quality opportunity in the virtual environment, and that can include opportunities for our most at-risk, vulnerable students.”

Asked for a response to Insight’s predicament, a spokesperson for the State Department of Education said the issue is “in the public comment period, so we’re collecting feedback to consider as part of the normal process.”

The public comment period ends Nov. 15 at 4:30 p.m. Information on submitting a comment can be found here. A public hearing will be held the same day at 1:30 p.m. in the Oliver Hodge Building in Oklahoma City.

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Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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