Indiana Virtual School wants to deal with charter revocation privately to avoid ‘mudslinging’

Indiana Virtual School officials are keeping their defense under wraps as they face losing two charters over allegations that their online schools enrolled thousands of students who never signed up for classes.

Leaders of Indiana Virtual School and its sister school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, missed a second chance last week to submit a response to the accusations, according to Daleville Community Schools, the rural district that oversees the virtual schools.

The online schools had been given more time to file a written response after they missed an initial deadline in March. The schools face a public hearing next week on the recommendation that their charters be revoked.

School officials did not respond to emails from Chalkbeat seeking comment. But last month, Indiana Virtual School’s attorney Thomas Burroughs said he would prefer to settle the matter with Daleville through private negotiations, likening it to seeking an “amicable” divorce.

“I’d like to see a consensual resolution,” Burroughs told Chalkbeat. “I think that’s better than a public hearing for everybody involved.”

Attorneys for Daleville and for the virtual schools have been talking privately since the allegations came to light in February. Burroughs raised concerns that a public hearing could “get hijacked by somebody else who’s got an agenda.”

“In a public forum, a lot of things can come out that may not be in the best interests of the parties or anybody,” Burroughs said. “You may end up just with a mudslinging event.”

Donna Petraits, a spokeswoman for Daleville, said the district could not comment on the private discussions about the proposed charter revocations. The public hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. June 19 at Daleville High School, with the Daleville school board slated to make a final decision on the charter revocations within the week afterward.

The schools initially refuted accusations in February that most of their students who were enrolled for all of last year never earned any credits. Many students weren’t even signed up for any classes, Daleville officials said.

Daleville also contended that Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy broke the terms of their charter contracts by failing to file required audits, producing some of the lowest academic results in the state, violating standardized testing protocols, and not providing required services to some students with disabilities.

Despite recommending that the schools lose their charters, Daleville still faced criticism from education leaders who said the district failed to properly monitor the schools and allowed the problems to persist for too long.

Indiana Virtual School officials have not yet publicly explained why they believe those allegations are “inaccurate and incomplete.” Still, they have contended that the virtual schools are a vital choice for students who have dropped out of traditional public schools or want an alternative learning environment, and they serve many students facing obstacles such as teen pregnancy or chronic illnesses.

“Most of the students we get, they haven’t been well-served by the brick-and-mortar [schools]. Whether there’s a failure of parenting, it’s a failure of instruction, it can be any number of things,” Burroughs told Chalkbeat last month. “The sad truth for many of them is they’re never going to graduate, and that’s just the way it is.”