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ECOT, Ohio’s largest online charter school, officially closes

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio’s largest online K-12 school, was closed Thursday night by its sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, citing a financial inability to continue.

The embattled school had claimed an enrollment of more than 15,000 students just two years ago, including more than 1,000 in the Dayton area. But state officials eventually challenged that figure, suggesting there were closer to 6,000 full-time students at the online charter school.

RELATED: Thousands of families scramble to adjust

ECOT argued that it merely had to “present” 920 hours of “learning opportunities” for students, while the Ohio Department of Education said students had to be logged on and engaged in school activities. ECOT fought and lost multiple court challenges, and the state began “clawing back” $60 million that it paid the school in 2015-2016 based on the higher enrollment figure.

“We are beginning the implementation of a plan to support students and families in identifying new educational opportunities to meet their needs,” state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said Thursday night.

ECOT families range from those with young students looking for a new school, to high school students left in limbo on the verge of graduation.

RELATED: State withholds more money from ECOT

Cheryl Palmer said her grandson falls in the latter group. After leaving Dayton’s DECA charter high school, he spent a year and a half at ECOT. Palmer said he was earning the last of 20 credits Ohio requires for graduation in the first semester, which ended Thursday for ECOT. But now she doesn’t know what to do.

“They didn’t send any emails out to us or anything,” Palmer said. “He’s supposed to be graduating from there, like, now. They didn’t give us any information about where we’re supposed to refer to. I tried calling them, but they’re not answering the phone.”

This newspaper referred her to contacts at the Ohio Department of Education for help.

RELATED: State auditor takes aim at ECOT funding

In an ECOT press release, school spokesman Neil Clark ripped state officials for the move.

“By rejecting an offer that would have allowed our current students to finish the year, Governor (John) Kasich, state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, (state education department attorney) Diane Lease, and company showed they were more interested in settling a political score than in doing what’s best for students,” Clark said. “These bureaucrats wanted blood for ECOT challenging them on their illegal and retroactive rule-making.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat running for governor, defended the move.

“Our goal was never to shut ECOT down,” he said. “We were working make sure taxpayers were treated fairly and students received the education they deserve.”

ECOT consistently ranks near the bottom of Ohio’s schools on state test scores, earning five F’s and a D on the 2016-17 state report card components.

Dayton Public Schools, which was losing close to 500 students to ECOT according to the charter school’s figures, has already begun trying to connect with those students, according to Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli.

And the Ohio Department of Education posted information on its web site to help families seeking new schools.

“Districts and schools have already taken actions to streamline and accelerate their enrollment processes (for ECOT students),” DeMaria said. “We know the entire education community will come together with care and compassion in the best interest of these students.”

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