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Online charter school sues Nevada board over performance stipulations

An online charter school with a history of academic performance issues is suing the State Public Charter School Authority to try to stop what it calls unfair requirements in a contract renewal for the next six years.

Nevada Virtual Academy filed a complaint last week in District Court in Las Vegas, days before its contract is set to expire Sunday. The complaint said that the authority has imposed unlawful conditions in its renewal contract that would cause irreparable harm to the academy’s students.

Under the authority’s renewal agreement, the academy’s middle and high schools will close if they receive fewer than than 50 index points — the equivalent of falling below three stars on the state’s academic performance rankings — in annual accountability assessments for two years in a row.

The agreement counts the 2017-18 ratings as the first year, meaning that the two-star middle school could be closed as soon as the end of the 2019-20 school year if it receives a poor rating for 2018-19. The high school, which has three stars, could be closed under such a scenario as soon as the end of the 2020-21 school year.

But those are more stringent criteria than the authority is allowed to impose, the school argues.

“Nothing in the statutory scheme for charter schools allows a school to be summarily terminated for two consecutive years of two star ratings,” the complaint said. “As such, this condition is unlawful.”

The school also takes issue with the authority determining its fate based on ratings from the 2017-18 school year, which falls outside of the term of its renewal contract.

“It’s absurd that the school would be renewed for six years, only to die in its first year,” said John Lemmo, an attorney for the school. “That doesn’t make any sense and is contrary to the statute.”

Nevada Virtual is part of a nationwide network of online schools powered by the national K12 Inc., which has links to at least one group that has tried to undermine efforts by states to impose greater accountability on online charters.

The school’s elementary school program was forced to close at the end of the last school year after failing to meet academic goals spelled out in a performance-improvement agreement with the authority. That agreement required the elementary school to earn an adjusted index score of 34 for the 2017-18 school year, which would equate to at least two stars. Instead the program received one star.

Faced with the possibility of immediate closure of the school if it does not sign the renewal agreement by Sunday’s deadline, the academy’s board has directed a delegate to sign the contract under protest and duress, according to Lemmo.

It’s the second school in recent years that has pursued litigation when facing a threat of closure because of underperformance. Nevada Connections Academy, a one-star school, has previously taken the authority to court.

But at an authority meeting Friday, the attorney representing the oversight board, Ryan Herrick, said he is comfortable with the legal arguments put forward.

“I’m confident that legally and factually this board was on sound grounds with the approval of Nevada Virtual’s renewed charter contract with conditions,” he said.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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