Parents of more than 1,000 students across the region are scrambling to find new schools for their children just days away from what could be the largest charter school failure in state history.
The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online school, notified parents this week they could suspend operations Jan. 19 as they work out issues with their sponsor, Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West.
The sponsor has said ECOT’s finances won’t keep it open through the school year considering a ruling that it repay the state $60 million for over-reporting student attendance. ECOT contests that ruling.
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ECOT says it has nearly 12,000 students across the state, making it one of the state’s largest school districts. It’s as if a school district the size of Dayton’s were suddenly shutting down, said Chad Aldis, Ohio policy director for the charter school think tank Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
“It’s the largest charter school ever,” he said.
ECOT students are spread throughout the region. There are 479 students in the Dayton school district who attend ECOT, while more than a dozen other local schools have at least a classroom’s worth of students enrolled in the charter school.
Many of those students could come back to their public school district. Dayton school officials did not respond to questions Friday about how the closure could impact them.
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Some parents are expected to try to enroll their children in one of Ohio’s several other online schools.
Wherever the students go, “it’s going to be a nightmare for the receiving school, but most importantly for the families involved,” Aldis said.
ECOT has a large number of high school students, and Aldis fears some may drop out instead of continuing their education.
ECOT has until next week to respond to its sponsor and offer remedies that could prevent a closure, according to the Ohio Department of Education. For the moment, the school remains operational and students can log on for classes as normal.
"If it does close, families have several options," said Brittany Halpin, spokeswoman for the department. The department's website, education.ohio.gov, has a "Find a school" search on the homepage. By typing in the county of residence, parents will see a list of school options that include traditional school districts offer open enrollment, online and private schools.
Parents would then need to contact the chosen school to start the enrollment process.
A spokesman for ECOT did not return a call for comment Friday.