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Online-only charter school gives up appeal

Nonprofit that proposed it withdraws plan

CHICAGO – A nonprofit trying to start a virtual charter school in northern Illinois withdrew its proposal before a state commission had the chance Tuesday to decide whether to deny the group’s appeal.

Virtual Learning Solutions indicated in a letter sent to the Illinois State Charter School Commission early Monday evening that the nonprofit was giving up its appeal because of a newly enacted moratorium that prohibits the creation of any new virtual charter school until April.

The withdrawal ends Virtual Learning’s effort to bring an online-only charter school to 18 districts in the Fox Valley area, including DeKalb School District 428 and Sycamore School District 427.

“Virtual Learning Solutions has determined that the legislation makes it impossible for Virtual Learning Solutions to proceed with the appeals because, even if the appeals were granted, the moratorium precludes Virtual Learning Solutions from fulfilling its expressed intention ... to begin operations during the 2013-14 school year,” Ted Dabrowski, Virtual Learning’s president, said in the letter.

The commission members voted 9-0 to accept Virtual Learning’s withdrawal during a regular board meeting in Chicago. They were originally going to decide whether or not to deny the appeal, after the commission’s staff had recommended they reject it because of the moratorium.

The withdrawal was the conclusion of a lengthy conflict between Virtual Learning and the 18 school districts. It began in March, when the nonprofit initially presented its proposal.

All 18 districts rejected the virtual charter proposal, arguing that Virtual Learning did not address their individual concerns about the charter school’s operating costs, curriculum and structure.

Virtual Learning sought to reverse all 18 district denials through the state charter commission, which was planning to hear the appeal until Gov. Pat Quinn signed the moratorium into law on May 24.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, introduced a moratorium bill that targeted virtual charter schools after Virtual Learning started meeting with school districts. It requires the commission to study the issue of virtual charter schools and present a report to lawmakers by March 2014.

Former Virtual Learning President Sharnell Jackson also resigned from the nonprofit after Quinn signed the legislation. Dabrowski, Virtual Learning’s secretary, has since filled Jackson’s role.

Virtual Learning’s retraction means a victory for the school districts, which were preparing all spring for a lengthy appeals process, said attorney Brian Crowley.

His Chicago firm, Franczek Radelet, represents four districts, including Carpentersville District 300, Elgin District U-46, Plainfield District 202 and Wheaton Warrenville District 200, affected by the defunct charter proposal.

“We are pleased,” Crowley said after the commission’s vote. “The appeals were going to incur a ton of legal fees and a ton of school district time. There were going to be interviews, hearings for a matter that frankly the public didn’t seem to support.”

During the meeting, the charter commission also detailed the timeline for its virtual charter report to the Illinois legislature. The commission will spend $10,000 in the coming year to gather research, conduct meetings and produce the study, which should be distributed by March 1.

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