In the event the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow closes its virtual doors, leaving students in search of a new school, local educators have one simple message: Come back.
The embattled charter school’s sponsor wants to cut its ties, so the possibility the virtual campus could shut down soon is a real one. Because of this, school districts across Lorain County are bracing for an influx of new students, returning students and students who have never been in the traditional brick-and-mortar school setting.
As an online school, ECOT offers students the option of being off-site, at home and in front of a computer.
Some 15,000 Ohio students utilize it as their educational option, something districts know well and has been a factor in state criticism over the school’s attendance recordkeeping.
“I believe that being in our district is always the best option, but from my experience people who want the online option will likely look for another online option,” said Keystone Superintendent Franco Gallo.
There, just a handful of students who live in the district attend ECOT.
ECOT enrollment is more significant in the Elyria and Lorain school districts.
In May, when discussing the start of Pioneer Academy, the district’s alternative school program, the number of students who live in Elyria and were enrolled in ECOT was about 110 high school students. Ann Schloss, the district’s associate superintendent, said Friday that the number is higher with the addition of kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
About 140 students from Lorain are in ECOT.
Schloss said Elyria won’t — and can’t legally — turn any student away if they need a school.
“Actually we deal with this everyday,” she said. “Students enroll in Elyria Schools every single day for so many reasons. We approach every situation in the same way: We make the best educational decision for the student based on all the data we can gather or come up with ourselves.”
Schloss said during registration, schools evaluate student records and check for coursework deficiencies. She said seniors in need of help toward graduation enroll in the high school’s credit recovery program.
The hope is always that school records will come intact, but that’s not always the case, Schloss said. When it doesn’t happen, parents, students and guidance counselors work as a team to figure out where a student falls on the spectrum.
This year offered Elyria many good lessons in enrolling students with multiple needs.
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in the fall, Elyria saw a bump in students from the American island territory, Schloss said. As a result, the district had to do a lot of adjusting after school started.
Several elementary schools got new classes and the district hired a new teacher in late November, which usually doesn’t happen.
“We now have three English second-language teachers and we bus students to a central location so they are in strong bilingual schools,” Schloss said. “We adjust. That’s what we do and what we will do if we received students through ECOT. We welcome any student that comes to Elyria because we know the program we provide.”
If districts can recover students, then some of the school funding that was lost to the largest charter network in the state will come with them. This won’t be retroactive, but state funding follows the student, and in Lorain County a lot of money has veered toward ECOT.
Elyria estimates it has lost a total of $1.1 million in state and local funding to ECOT.
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