The shutdown of the state’s largest online charter school – which owes tens of millions of dollars to the state – has thousands of students searching for options in the middle of the school year. And there are also some 800 teachers and faculty from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow who are now looking for work.
“It’s been absolutely devastating.”
Sarah Aubry is a student parent liaison, and was working for ECOT from her home near Columbus. “It’s really sad because the emails I’m getting from my students because they are just beside themselves upset – they’re, basically, their whole worlds are being turned upside down.”
Aubry was dealing with families of ECOT students who weren’t regularly attending – a key group involved in the ECOT case, which revolves around $80 million that the state says needs to paid back for students ECOT claimed were enrolled but their attendance couldn’t be verified.
ECOT teachers and staff know what’s being said about the school – that the academic performance and graduation rate were terrible, that audits showed some kids logged in less than an hour a day and that some weren’t doing any work at all, and that ECOT officials didn’t care because it was all about the money.
Shannon Kitchen of Mt. Sterling southwest of Columbus became a high school intervention specialist with ECOT because she needed the flexibility as a parent of eight biological and foster children. “I get very personally offended that somebody could say that because, until you’ve seen what I do, I don’t see how you could possibly say that ECOT hasn’t put students first. And I’ve invited many, many people to come shadow me and come hear these kids’ stories.”
These ECOT employees say while they’d been following what was developing, they found out about the school’s closing in real time, with no advance notice. Sheila Ely-Sekerak of Green was in her third year as an 8th grade science teacher. She said health problems will make it challenging to find a new job, especially in the middle of the school year. But she said there’s a larger impact. “You have to think of the consequences. Not only for these students, but moreso for the students – it’s going to impact taxpayers and it’s going to affect the economy with the numbers of students who won’t graduate and end up being a part of our financial crisis.”
Shannon Kitchen is a little more direct and emotional – saying she feels betrayed by lawmakers, state officials and all those who pushed for ECOT to close. “If they can rest at night knowing that there are 6,000 students now that won’t get a diploma or won’t go anywhere else, then they’re better than I am because I can’t rest at night. They keep me up at night thinking about my individual students that now don’t have a chance to get a diploma,” Kitchen said.
And Sarah Aubry finds some irony in ECOT’s shutdown. “It kind of feels like we’re the ones being bullied because a lot of our students come to ECOT because of bullying in the public schools and now we can’t even protect our students from the lawmakers that are bullying us,” Aubry said.
ECOT claims to have 12,000 students, so there are fears of overcrowding at brick and mortar schools and a lack of resources at online schools as ECOT families consider what to do next. Most traditional schools have personnel set at this point in the year, and while online schools might need more teachers if ECOT students turn to them, there are limits on how much they can grow.