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New England News

Greenfield Public Schools to Discontinue Only Virtual School in Mass.

The only virtual public school in Massachusetts will be closed this June, after a school committee vote last week to not continue the school under a recently approved state law that hopes to expand virtual schools with stricter state oversight.

Last week, the school committee of Greenfield Public schools voted unanimously to discontinue the Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield Public Schools – currently the only operating virtual school in Massachusetts. The decision comes ahead new state guidelines designed to expand virtual learning in the commonwealth signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in early January.

John Lunt, Chairman of the Greenfield school committee said he was unclear of how any of the ten virtual schools to be created under the new law would be regulated…

“Most of the regulations around the Commonwealth Virtual Schools that have been created have not been promulgated as of yet so that was part of the concern we had. We really didn’t know what we would be getting into…”

The Massachusetts Virtual Academy at Greenfield was initially established after 2010’s state Innovation School guideline were created. Currently, 475 students from across the state attend classes via online learning and in-home instruction at Greenfield’s Virtual Academy.

Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of the department of Elementary and Secondary Education was unavailable for comment, but stated in a memorandum sent to Board of education that the January law signed to expand virtual schools comes from the Board’s 2011 position that “that there should be a stronger oversight and consumer protection role for the state than the one provided by the innovation school statute.”

John Lunt of the Greenfield school committee said that if the Massachusetts Virtual Academy were to be awarded a certificate to operate as a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School, it would operate essentially as a charter school, and with a loss of local control from the public school district.

“An Innovation School under the Innovation law that was passed several years ago  allowed for districts to operate a virtual school with local control, to hire teachers to make sure that they were all properly certified, to make sure that we were aligned with Mass. Core Currciulum standards. The new law creates a charter school that has a separate board of directors and is by its nature […] meant to operate independently of a public school district.”

Department of Education guidelines state: "Similar to the charter school model, a CMVS is an autonomous school district that operates independently of any existing school district."

Marcia Day, another member of the Greenfield school committee also opined via email that she has “no issue” with the concept of expanding curriculum beyond the school district’s physical borders by that the “new model [is] similar to a charter school.”

Greenfield Public Schools superintendent Dr. Susan Hollins was not available to return a call for comment in for broadcast, but spoke with WAMC in support of online learning after passage of the law that would expand online virtual schools last January. She said that it was not the intention of the district to create a model for virtual schools in Massachusetts.

“It was never the goal of Greenfield to stimulate 10 virtual schools, whether or not there were any other virtual schools wasn’t really our interest.  Our interest was making sure there was a virtual school for some of Greenfield’s students and also students around the state who absolutely needed an option that was not inside a public school building…”

The Recorder of Greenfield reports that after the last week’s committee meeting, the superintendent had wished “the committee had taken more time before its final vote, but that she respected the decision.”

This Greenfield school committee’s subcommittee on Innovation School is scheduled to meet this week with the public to discuss the virtual school’s future.

EDIT: Susan Hollins, superintendent of Greenfield Public Schools submitted a comment over email that reads in part:

“At our level, the virtual school is not a political argument--it is a school serving students statewide who, mostly, feel they had no options in the public schools. I, in particular, have a sense of the legislation that segued from a district virtual school to a mandate that there be no district virtual schools.”

The Greenfield school committee’s subcommittee on Innovation Schools will meet on Thursday, March 7th in the Greenfield High School library, 1 Lenox Ave., Greenfield, MA.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

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