Judge: Oklahoma Online Charter School Must Wait Until 2011

Friday, September 3rd 2010, 3:52 pm
By: News On 6

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma's first online charter school must wait until the 2011-12 school year to enroll students because it didn't meet deadlines for student transfers under the state's charter school act, an Oklahoma County judge decided Friday. 

Reiterating her ruling at an Aug. 16 hearing, District Judge Patricia Parrish said students transferring into Epic One on One Charter School needed to do so under the state's open transfer statute and that the deadline to do so for this year had passed as of April 1. The school didn't secure a sponsorship from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond until late June.

"Epic is precluded from having students start school on September 1, 2010, but could accept transfers for the next school year under the open transfer statute," according to an order drafted by a state Department of Education attorney after last month's hearing. 

Parrish said Friday she planned to sign that order.

After Friday's hearing, Epic's founder, David Chaney, said the school now is pointing toward opening for the 2011-12 academic year. Epic's attorney, Bill Hickman, has said more than 400 students were ready to take classes in the just-started school year. 

"Obviously, we're disappointed that we don't get to bring the program that hundreds of Oklahoma families have asked for until next year," Chaney said. "As far as Epic goes, we will continue to ... put our message out there and let families know this option will be available next fall."

Last month, Epic successfully sued the Oklahoma City Public Schools district and the Department of Education, forcing the latter to issue the new school a district code and thus allowing it to receive public funding.

Epic students would take classes online without attending a physical school. At the August hearing, Parrish said students need not physically transfer into the Oklahoma City school district in order to enroll at Epic, which is based within the district.

For Friday's hearing, Hickman submitted three proposed final orders to Parrish, each of which would have established a physical district boundary for the Epic district -- either the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma County or the Oklahoma City district – for enrollment and transfer purposes. Attorneys for the Oklahoma City district and the Department of Education protested. 

Parrish asked Hickman about where he thought Epic's resident students would be located but otherwise declined to discuss the issue further, although she admitted it would have to be addressed at some point.

"This whole thing is such a new area," she said.

Parrish said her August ruling specifically said charter schools could only accept students during the open transfer period. Both sides acknowledged after the hearing that the decision could affect students wanting to transfer into Oklahoma's other existing charter schools.

Chaney maintained the ruling means "there are thousands of students that are attending (charter schools) today, that that school can no longer get funding. As an Oklahoman, that's very concerning." But Stephanie Mather, an attorney for the Oklahoma City school district, said the ruling should not affect students who already have transferred into charter schools for this school year.

"They're there," she said. "School has started. They're in school. Now next year, under this ruling, the law changes in some respect. They probably should apply for an open transfer, and we'll let them know that." 

Last week, the state Board of Education voted to have the Department of Education appeal Parrish's August ruling that it must provide Epic with a district code. No appeal has yet been filed.

8/12/2010  Related Story: North Tulsa Charter School Parents File Lawsuit Against Oklahoma