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Districts join cyber school suit

January 16, 2002

Districts join cyber school suit



Chambersburg, Pa.

By STACEY DANZUSO

chbbureau@innernet.net

Five Franklin County school districts have filed a lawsuit questioning the legality of a charter cyber school that enrolls local students.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Franklin County Court on behalf of the Chambersburg Area School District, the Greencastle-Antrim School District, the Tuscarora School District, the Waynesboro Area School District and the Shippensburg Area School District.

The lawsuit names the Einstein Academy and several individuals associated with the school as defendants.

It claims there is a controversy over the "constitutionality of the charter school law, obligations of public school districts to make payments to Einstein Academy and whether Einstein Academy obtained a proper and lawful charter," among other concerns.

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Cyber schools offer an academic curriculum to students in their homes predominantly via the Internet.

Students mainly interact with self-paced computer programs and online reference sites, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The student's school district of residence pays the charter cyber school the amount it spends per year on each student.

Local school districts became aware of Einstein Academy last fall when they began receiving bills for students enrolled.

P. Duff Rearick, superintendent of Greencastle-Antrim schools, said five students in his district are enrolled at Einstein Academy. The district has been billed about $25,000, but has withheld payment, like many other districts in the state, Rearick said.

As a result, the state Secretary of Education is deducting the amount from the districts' state subsidy payments, he said.

The school districts are requesting reimbursement of that money and for charter cyber schools to be barred from operating.

The lawsuit does not say how many students from the five districts are enrolled at Einstein Academy or how much money they have been billed.

However, across the state as many as 2,700 students are enrolled in cyber schools at an average cost of $6,300 each, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The local lawsuit argues that charter schools, and by extension cyber schools, violate state constitution. In addition, it says even if the charter school law is valid, cyber schools are not authorized.

The lawsuit also questions whether enrollment at Einstein Academy is in compliance with Pennsylvania's compulsory attendance law, whether cyber schools are qualified to be charter schools and whether fraudulent bills were sent for special education students when little or no special education related services were provided.

According to the lawsuit, Einstein Academy is owned and operated by National Organization For Children, Inc., a nonprofit corporation.

The school's address is listed as Wynnewood, Pa., and it received its charter from the Borough of Morrisville, Pa. school district in 1998, according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to contact Einstein Academy officials were unsuccessful.

The districts have also filed a petition for special relief, seeking an injunction on Einstein Academy's operations in Franklin County.

Such injunctions were granted last fall in Butler and Adams counties, according to the lawsuit.

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