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State Supreme Court rules in favor of cyber schools

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

By The Associated Press

The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a Pennsylvania School Boards Association lawsuit over whether online charter schools are legal.

The court's order means that a Commonwealth Court ruling, which dismissed the association's legal challenge, will stand.

The association has pushed for more regulation of cyber schools, arguing that a 1997 state law that authorizes the creation of publicly funded, independently managed charter schools contains no provisions for online schools with no physical boundaries.

The state Legislature sought to address those concerns by passing a law in 2002 requiring new cyber schools be approved by the Department of Education, instead of local school districts. It also allows districts to question bills they receive for cyber school tuition.

But Michael Levin, an attorney for the school boards association, said some questions about cyber education remain unanswered, despite the court ruling and the legislative changes.

"There's a tremendous lack of accountability, for one," he said of the court's ruling, made late last month and released this week. "Under the new legislation, cyber schools are defined as entities that provide instruction over the Internet. By and large, there's no instruction being provided (in that manner)."

School districts have argued that cyber charter schools essentially amount to an unregulated form of home-schooling.

Only two of the four cyber schools named in the association's lawsuit are currently operating -- the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Beaver County and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School in Montgomery County.

"There's a degree of validation that what we were doing was legal, but I still think we need to have a lot more discussion about where online learning is going in this state," said Nick Trombetta, chief administrative officer for the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and superintendent of Midland Borough School District in Beaver County.

The third school, Commonwealth Cyber Charter School, never opened; the fourth, Einstein Academy Charter School, closed earlier this year after two years of operation because the Department of Education and the courts determined it failed to comply with its charter.

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