More than 30 teachers at the largest online charter school network in California filed complaints against their employer on Thursday, alleging that the schools violated state and federal laws by failing to provide special education services, inflating enrollment figures and paying for conferences in Yosemite and Palm Springs with federal money intended for students from low-income families.
The teachers filed their complaints – 69 in all – with the California Department of Education, county superintendents and nine school districts that oversee nine branches of the California Virtual Academies schools. The network operates 11 schools in California with an enrollment of 14,500 students.
“There is little oversight of virtual public schools in California,” said Cara Bryant, a longtime California Virtual Academies teacher and current teacher trainer based out of the branch known as CAVA @ Sonoma, in a statement.
“I do not believe all students are getting the education they need enrolled in CAVA,” Bryant said.
K12 Inc., the parent company of California Virtual Academies, denied the allegations and suggested they were part of an effort to unionize teachers at the schools. Other allegations included the illegal sharing of confidential student information, such as Individualized Education Plans for special education students, with all teachers; failing to keep adequate financial reserves; and failing to improve a pattern of sub-par student academic achievement and graduation rates.
“The latest round of complaints filed by a small group of individuals are consistent with prior complaints brought against the California Virtual Academies by various labor organizations seeking to represent CAVA certified teachers,” said Katrina Abston, head of schools for the network, in a statement from K12.
Some teachers at the California Virtual Academies have formed a group known as the California Virtual Educators that is seeking to unionize and affiliate with the California Teachers Association, according to Stacie Bailey, a high school science teacher at California Virtual Academies.
“As with the prior complaints, CAVA absolutely believes these current complaints are without merit,” Abston said. The charter schools undergo annual financial audits by independent external auditors, Abston said, and have “a strong record of compliance.”
David Thoming, superintendent of the New Jerusalem Elementary School District, said the district would investigate the complaints and asked the letter writers to send evidence of non-compliance. Families in the New Jerusalem district have been very happy with the CAVA@San Mateo school, he said, which provides homeschool families a structured curriculum and high school students a more flexible schedule. One student in the district is an accomplished gymnast who is enrolled in CAVA@San Mateo so she can take classes around her workout schedule.
“They love it,” Thoming said. “They wouldn’t be as large as they are if families didn’t like it.”
He added, “No one’s forcing them to go there and along the same line, for the teachers, no one’s forcing them to work there.”
Links to the complaints can be found on the California Virtual Educators website. The California Virtual Academy schools named in the complaints and the districts that oversee them are:
- CAVA@Fresno – Orange Center School District
- CAVA@Jamestown – Jamestown Elementary School District
- CAVA@Kings – Armona Union Elementary School District
- CAVA@Los Angeles – West Covina Unified School District
- CAVA@Maricopa and CAVA@Maricopa High – Maricopa Unified School District
- CAVA@San Diego – Spencer Valley Elementary School District
- CAVA@San Joaquin – New Jerusalem Elementary School District
- CAVA@San Mateo – Jefferson Elementary School District
- CAVA@Sutter – Meridian Elementary School District