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Tough Lessons Taught to a Cyber Charter Student

LITITZ, PA, When Liam Blevins was denied eligibility to participate in Warwick School District’s school play this past fall, he and his parents were more than disappointed. The district contested that students who attend cyber charter schools, though they are public schools, are not eligible for a variety of extracurricular activities.

Per Pennsylvania’s Charter School bill, students are eligible to participate in all after-school extracurricular activities provided within a resident’s home school district, so long as those activities meet after the school day.

When a child leaves his home district, taxpayer dollars used to pay for various school needs are transitioned from the home school district to the charter school. So, is a student who chooses to attend a cyber or a charter school no longer a member of his community? The student is no longer a citizen of education, but a dollar amount floating amidst a rocky educational landscape.

In their conception, charter schools were intended to serve the greater community by introducing innovative teaching and learning models to benefit students. Instead, competition and tension have resulted, driving the different types of schools apart. But who has been left feeling the most divided? Students like Liam Blevins.

When I asked the Blevins’ what led them to choose 21st Century Cyber Charter School (21CCCS) for Liam’s schooling, they were adamant to express support for their school district.

“We would have kept Liam in his district. But, he was not being challenged. Liam’s competitive, and an avid learner. His school [did not] build a curriculum that could recognize his abilities,” Mr. Blevins said.

When Liam became negative about school, the Blevins’ sought an alternative education at 21CCCS, where individualized instruction was available. It was not anticipated that such a decision would lead Liam to be disenfranchised in other ways.

Through various emails and communications, Warkwick Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education, Dr. Robin Felty, stated that students must partake in the school’s choral program to participate in the play. Interestingly, this policy was more clearly defined to Warwick residents in the fall of 2012, not long after Liam’s request to join the play. The Blevins’ requested further information.

In a letter written from the superintendent, indicators and anchors were detailed to outline which music skills are assessed for 5th grade students. But, Liam had already passed the 5th grade as a student of Warwick SD. Further, the 6th grade curriculum was not provided as an entity separate of the 5th grade curriculum. It was also explained that Liam failed to meet the 6th grade music curriculum standards as a member of the charter school. However, Liam is required to participate in music courses as a 6th grader in a cyber charter school. Additionally, Liam had been eligible to participate in the play the year before at Warwick. In fact, he had been given the play’s leading role– an honor typically reserved for older students.

Liam and his family went on to address the school board. At the meeting, Superintendent, Dr. April Hershey said, “Warwick School District is committed to providing educational opportunities including academics, the arts and athletics to all eligible Warwick School District students. District residents, students and families who have chosen alternative school options have limited access to programs and services based on Pennsylvania law and district policy.”

Ultimately, in spite of efforts, Liam was not permitted to participate in the school play. He was, however, contacted by the Day Spring Christian Academy. He was offered a chance to participate in their school’s play and he accepted. The play will open on April 12th.

Through this experience, Liam learned to stand up for himself and has brought attention to an issue that will assumedly persist. He learned how to make lemonade from lemons, and hopes to use this experience as something to learn from.

The fact remains that students throughout the commonwealth have been granted the right of choice in education. They may find the instructional means, in a public charter school such as 21CCCS, to support their vision of learning. But how can students maintain a place within their communities? Is this not the intention of public schooling? Perhaps only time can tell.