New Massachusetts Law Will Regulate Online Schools

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has signed legislation that will give the state oversight of online-based public schools. “Virtual schools” have emerged across the country as an alternative to traditional schools for elementary through high school students.

Though it’s based in Greenfield, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, a K-8 school that opened in 2010, enrolls students from all across the commonwealth. 

“But there’s no role for the state prior to this law in asking for documentation of the quality of the program, and overseeing the program as it moves forward.”

That’s Massachusetts elementary and secondary education commissioner Mitchell Chester. He says the law will require virtual schools to enroll at least five percent of their students from their local district. That could be an issue at the Greenfield virtual school, since so far just 3% of the students are local residents. Susan Hollins, the Greenfield Schools Superintendent, says requiring 5% local students is questionable because the law also limits the number of students enrolled in virtual schools statewide to 2%.

“So to ask that 5% of the students in the school be from the district when only 2% of a population is thought to want or need, makes it very difficult for anywhere but maybe a city to have a single, district-sponsored virtual school.”

The Greenfield virtual school primarily enrolls students who can’t attend a traditional school, because they may be homebound by illness, or victims of bullying, “or we have students who are professional models, or they’re trying to get into the Olympics,” says Hollins.

The new law caps the number of virtual schools in the state at ten. Currently the Greenfield school is the only virtual school in Massachusetts.