State taking steps to shut down underperforming charter school

The Minnesota Department of Education says it's taking steps to shut down an online charter school because its curriculum doesn't meet state standards.

This is the first time the state has made such a move.

BlueSky Online School is based in West St. Paul and serves about 600 students across the state in grades 7-12.

School officials say they'll fight the state's effort to shut them down.

The state Department of Education first reviewed BlueSky Online's curriculum back in 2008 after receiving multiple complaints that graduates weren't meeting state education requirements.

The state has pored through the charter school's curriculum and graduates' transcripts over the last three years looking for improvement.

Department spokesperson Charlene Briner says state officials haven't seen substantial improvement.

"BlueSky has not been able to prove numerous times that their curriculum is aligned with Minnesota state standards."

The state says some students who've received a diploma from BlueSky as recently as February haven't taken all the courses required by the state to graduate. The Department of Education noted shortcomings particularly in math and social studies.

Last month the state told the school's sponsor to break its contract with BlueSky. Novation Education Opportunities refused, maintaining the school's curriculum was fine.

On Thursday the state sent letters to both the charter school and its authorizer saying it would end the contract, power given to the state just two years ago in a law strengthening oversight of charter schools.

Briner says that will essentially close BlueSky after this school year.

"I would not expect the school to be open in the fall."

Officials at BlueSky say they've been working to prove that their curriculum is up to state standards.

School spokesman Dan Cook is frustrated that their efforts haven't convinced state officials.

"We have provided more than 6,000 pages of documentation to them. We have reviewed and re-reviewed our transcripts so many times that it's approaching nonsensical levels."

Blue Sky has the right to ask Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to overturn the decision.

Cook said school officials are still considering that move, but in the meantime they've asked a judge to decide the issue.

"We would like to move the hearing into the Court of Appeals, because, quite honestly at this point, we don't believe we could get a fair and objective hearing in front of the commissioner of education."

BlueSky is telling its current students to wait out the process to see what happens.

School officials don't have a firm number but say fewer than 100 students will get diplomas this spring.

The state Department of Education says it is working to shut down the school now to give students time to enroll in another school over the summer.

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