DPI Responds to Manitowoc Schools Virtual Charter School Ban

The Manitowoc Public Schools’ prohibition of students enrolling in Virtual Charter Schools is an exercise in futility, based on comments from a spokesman for the State Department of Public Instruction. Media Trackers reported Friday that  Manitowoc Public Schools Business Services Manager Ken Mischler said he is denying all requests for students to enroll in virtual charter schools this summer.

If parents make such a request during the state’s open enrollment period in spring, school districts don’t have the option of rejecting enrollment in virtual charter schools. However after that window closes there is an “alternative application procedure” parents can use. And Mischler told us under that procedure he is denying all requests for enrollment to virtual charter schools.  Mischler claims that virtual charter schools historically have failed Manitowoc students. Mischler rejected the notion that this was the school district taking away an educational choice from parents. He insisted repeatedly that denied families can appeal to the Department of Public Instruction.

DPI spokesman Thomas McCarthy told Media Trackers in an email Friday that that appeals promise has universally supported denied families in the past:

In terms of appeals to the department for denials under the Alternative Application for Open Enrollment, the department has overturned every instance of a resident district’s denial of a student application. In lay terms, we have always sided with parents when they have been denied for open enrollment using the alternative application and selected best interest of the child as their reason.

Assuming McCarthy is accurate, that would mean every family in the Manitowoc School district that was denied transfer to a VCS by Mischler ultimately saw his decision overturned on appeal. That would mean Mischler’s refusals are an exercise in futility that serve only to complicate a process for parents who want their children enrolled in an online school. McCarthy also told us that parents who have appealed, or plan to appeal their denial are allowed to enroll their kids in the school of their choice while the appeal process is under way. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of receiving a denial from their home district.

“We’re pleased to learn that this is the approach taken by DPI, but t​he needless hoop remains a burden on families​ and this Bureaucrats’ Veto needs to be removed from state statues, ” said Peder Berg, President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families. “Districts like Manitowoc Public Schools must know their decisions are routinely overturned, yet they continue to try to bully parents into submission. They refuse to trust parents to make decisions in the best interest of their children. They should not have the power to try to intimidate parents out of exercising their education options. We’ll take our case to the legislature on September 13th.”

September 13th is the date the parent-run coalition is holding a Back to School Rally and State Capitol Field Trip in Madison.​

What is unknown is how many parents become frustrated by Mischler’s refusal and don’t follow through with the appeals process. When we asked McCarthy if DPI considered Mischler’s practice to be consistent with the law, he said: “DPI doesn’t provide legal advice of that nature.”