A recent spike in the number of students transferring into school districts that have virtual programs — sometimes on the opposite side of the state — has caused confusion and conflict over Oklahoma's emergency transfer laws.
Superintendent Karl Springer said about 80 emergency transfers out of Oklahoma City Public Schools have been denied by his staff, only to be approved later by the state Education Department.
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said a number of superintendents are frustrated that their denials of emergency transfers are being overridden by the state.
The confusion comes from conflicting regulations, Barresi said.
The Education Department rules say the department should act as a tiebreaker between districts in emergency transfer
Lisa Enders, the department's general counsel, said that regulation is outdated and in direct conflict with state law.
State law says there are eight reasons a student may be transferred from a school district after the April 1 deadline for open transfers. Open transfers cannot be denied for any reason if the receiving district accepts the student.
The Education Board voted Thursday to revoke the current department regulations and instead follow state law.
Barresi said the law needs to be followed, but the board can come back next year to clarify the rules or even support changes in legislation.
Robert Neel, executive director of accreditation and standards, said his department has denied about half of the emergency transfer requests.
“They're asking for the opportunity to take virtual courses,” Neel said.
His team looks to see whether the school district the student is zoned to attend offers similar virtual education opportunities. If it does, Neel said, they denied the transfer.
Charter school eyed
Springer said his biggest concern along this line is that about 30 students from his district have transferred to a brick-and-mortar school building that's offering prekindergarten courses through a virtual charter school.
“One school district can begin to franchise its program all over the state,” he said.
Epic One on One Charter School has opened three locations across the state where parents can drop off prekindergarten and elementary students for a day of education.
The facilities in Oklahoma City, Norman and Tulsa are raising debate about whether virtual schools chartered with one school district can open a school in another district.
Epic is a virtual program that received its charter to operate from Graham Public Schools in Okfuskee County.
The school is accepting students from across the state through emergency transfers.
Barresi assured Springer that she was aware of the situation involving Epic and has taken action. The Education Department sent the superintendent of Graham Public Schools and the leaders of Epic a cease-and-desist letter Wednesday.
“In reviewing solicitation on the Epic One on One website, it is evident that the intention is to provide a physical location for students within a school for a full day,” the letter signed by Neel says. “This violates the accreditation regulations related to one school conducting a school within the boundaries of another.”
In other business
Also Thursday, the board received a report on the accreditation status of districts across the state.
Three school districts were accredited with probation because of historically low student performance on standardized tests: Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Union.
This is the third consecutive year those districts have been warned that their academic deficiencies — as measured by the Academic Performance Index scores — must