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Proposal Calls for Elimination of Board of Trustees at the Florida Virtual School

By Cait Etherington
April 30, 2019

On April 25th, the Florida Virtual School was back in the news again. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel, a proposal by state officials is now calling for the elimination of the school’s board of trustees. If the proposal passes, the State Board of Education will step in to oversee the troubled organization and initiate an audit.

The Ongoing Drama at the Florida Virtual School

As previously reported on eLearning Inside, the virtual school has been plagued with difficulties since last spring. Problems started with a massive data leak that compromised thousands of students’ personal information. By June, the school was dealing with other problems. After a failed attempt to form a union and a series of dismissals of out-of-state employees, including at least one employee who had been involved in the failed unionization effort, the school faced a series of wrongful dismissal complaints. Over the summer, more problems arose, many of which were connected to the school’s former general counsel, Frank Kruppenbacher who has been accused of mishandling school funds.

While efforts have been made to bring the school’s problems under control, even these efforts have faced obstacles. In late 2018, the school faced allegations that it has been far from transparent about its current problems. Despite the fact that the school is funded by Florida taxpayers, some residents and former employees believe the school has been making it unnecessarily difficult for stakeholders to access information.

Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, the Florida Virtual School faced another unanticipated blow when Robert Porter, who had been appointed President and CEO of the school in late 2018, suddenly passed away. The school recently appointed long-term board member, Dhyana Ziegler, to serve as its interim chief executive. While the appointment initially appeared to be promising, within weeks the newly appointed officials was in the news and again, the news did not reflect well on the school. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel on April 22, Ziegler claims to have been knighted back in 2008 and allegedly asks school staff to use the title “Lady” when addressing her.

A House Proposal Hopes to Bring Stability to the Florida Virtual School

According to the Orlando Sentinel, a House proposal, which emerged from recent budget discussion, is now calling for the State Board of Education to help manage the school. Among other things, the new director will be charged with hiring a consulting firm to conduct an audit of the school and its current affairs.

So far, Ziegler appears open to the change. She told the Orlando Sentinel that she would be compliant with any legislation and support a full audit. This, she noted, reflects the fact that, “The focus of FLVS has been and will remain on our students as we continue to provide high quality instruction and service.” The audit report and any recommendations will be due to Richard Corcoran, the Education Commissioner, by November.

The Florida Virtual School hasn’t always been troubled. The school, which was founded in 1997 under a grant, has served Florida students from kindergarten to 12th grade for over two decades. In 2016 to 2017, the Florida Virtual School offered instruction to over 206,000 students.

In Fall 2017, the school also made headlines for a good reason.  After a devastating hurricane shut down most schools in Puerto Rico, the Florida Virtual School stepped in to provide hundreds of students with a way to continue to their studies. The school demonstrated just how effective online schooling can be when the need arises for a rapidly scalable educational solution.

With the right leadership, there is hope that the Florida Virtual School will regain its status as a model of effective online public education.

Photo by Haidan on Unsplash.

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