State of Minnesota to Shut Down Online School

Jessie Montano, Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, sent a letter [PDF file] on Monday, March 7 to Novation Education Opportunities, which oversees the West St. Paul-based BlueSky Online School, directing Novation to terminate its charter school contract with BlueSky within the next two weeks.

"If Novation does not respond by March 21, 2011, or decides not to proceed under section 124D.10, subd. 23(a) to terminate or not renew its contract with BlueSky, the Department will give notice to BlueSky and Novation that it is initiating proceedings under section 124D.10, subd. 23(d), to terminate the existing contract between the authorizer and the charter school board due to the fact that BlueSky has a history of repeated or major violations of the law," Montano wrote.

Department spokeswoman Charlene Briner says the school has made "major and repeated violations of state law," including graduating students who haven't met state standards, according to Minnesota Public Radio's Dan Olson. "Briner says state audits as far back as 2008 found the school was giving diplomas to some students who had not taken four years of English and three years of math," Olson writes.

Montano's letter on March 7 included a copy of an audit report from April of 2009 directing BlueSky to complete 12 corrective actions, including reviewing all mathematics courses and redeveloping those that weren't aligned to state standards, ceasing the graduation of those students who had not fulfilled mathematics graduation requirements, and more. According to Montano, those corrective actions were never taken.

BlueSky's interim director Don Hainlen described the Department of Education's move as a decision taken by "bricks-and-mortar people who don't know anything about online schools," according to The Star Tribune's Sarah Lemagie. "The school is following the law, and all 10 of its mid-year graduates--who got their diplomas last month--had completed the proper course work, he said," Lemagie writes. "But those students' final transcripts indicate that some of them did not meet state graduation requirements for math or social studies, state officials said."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press' Mila Koumpilova reports that Misun Bormann, a former BlueSky counselor who's suing the school along with a former teacher, welcomed the development. "Complaints by the two former employees triggered the department's inquiry into BlueSky in 2009," Koumpilova writes. "The two allege that the school let them go after they raised concerns. 'My emotions go from sadness for all these kids whose lives have been impacted unknowingly, frustration that it two years and of course now relief that finally the right thing will happen,' she said."