With little fanfare, Daleville board votes to shutter controversial Indiana Virtual School

During a meeting that lasted just six minutes, Daleville school board members signed off Wednesday night to end the yearslong saga of the embattled Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

Five stoic Daleville school board members said nothing about their decision except to unanimously approve the closure agreement, leaving many unanswered accusations of flagrant mismanagement at the online schools.

Despite allegations that the two online schools enrolled thousands of inactive students, no officials from Indiana Virtual School showed up at the meeting in the little town outside of Muncie. No families of the thousands of students who enrolled in the schools showed up either.

Donna Petraits, a spokeswoman for Daleville, defended the closure deal as “the better solution over charter revocation” and said the district “was not an investigative agency.”

But she also added: “I think we would all agree that what should have been different was to have greater oversight opportunities since the beginning.”

In February, Daleville recommended revoking the two online schools’ charters, alleging that thousands of students were not signed up for classes or did not earn any credits. Daleville also flagged issues with standardized testing, special education services, missing audits, and low academic outcomes.

Indiana Virtual School officials have never publicly responded to those allegations.

But instead of moving forward with the charter revocations, the schools and their oversight agency hashed out the deal that was finalized Wednesday.

The agreement will close Indiana Virtual School in September. It will not receive state funding for the 2019-20 school year.

Its students can transfer to its sister school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, which will remain open until the end of the 2019-20 school year. Petraits defended the decision to let the school, which graduated just 2% of seniors last year, stay open for another year as being “in the best interest of the students, because it gives them an opportunity to find someplace else to go.”

It was not immediately clear how many students would be affected by the closures, since thousands of students churn through the two schools every year, in line with patterns at online schools across the country.

“Ultimately, this resolution affords the schools and their vendors, staff and teachers an opportunity to reassess and improve our instructional model while allowing those students who choose to attend Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy and who have not been able to succeed in traditional brick and mortar schools a second chance to achieve academic success,” said Percy Clark, superintendent of the two virtual schools, said in an emailed statement.

The statement did not address Daleville’s accusations. School officials did not immediately respond to questions from Chalkbeat.

Under the agreement, Indiana Virtual School must stop enrolling students immediately. Families from both schools must be notified of the closure decision within 10 days, and within a month, the schools are supposed to provide a list of nearby schools where students can transfer.

If students don’t choose a new school, they will be assigned to their local school district.

In its final year of operations, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy must purge its rolls of inactive students and can only receive funding for students whose parents explicitly sign a consent form to enroll them, according to the agreement.

The school must later prove that all of the students counted for state funding were actively engaged in their coursework. It cannot enroll students later in the year.

The agreement also calls for Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy to rectify some of the issues flagged in February, including providing certain special education services and following standardized testing protocol.

Daleville is working with an outside administrator to monitor Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy’s final year of operations and the closures of the two schools.

If the virtual schools want to re-open under another oversight agency, the state board of education would have to consider their case.

They will be the third and fourth statewide online schools to close. Indiana Cyber School was shut down by its authorizer in 2015, three years after it opened, due to mismanagement and low academic performance.

Last year, long-running Hoosier Academy Virtual closed, even after getting a second chance to improve low test scores and failing state grades.