A judge has ruled in favor of a Fulton mother in her lawsuit involving Fulton Public Schools and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Miya Estill brought the suit on behalf of her three young children, who were denied enrollment in a particular online course program (MOVA) by FPS because DESE had not approved it.
"Absent the relief ordered, the children (would) be denied the ability to seek enrollment in a Missouri Course Access Program for which they otherwise qualify," Judge Gael Wood stated in his Monday ruling. "The absence of such relief would adversely affect the two minor children who are in elementary school given the lack of any MOCAP alternative."
A single fifth-grade English class was the only online option for kindergarten through fifth grade on the DESE-approved list.
Wood issued a writ of mandamus ordering DESE to put MOVA on its list of approved MOCAP providers no later than 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. He also ordered DESE to pay court costs, but he did not order FPS to provide any particular relief.
His ruling relied on a plain-language reading of Missouri law, which states "any online course offered by a school district which meets the requirements of section 162.1250 shall be automatically approved to participate in (MOCAP)."
The MOVA online courses are already offered in Missouri by Grandview R-11 School District, which allows students within and outside its own district to enroll.
"DESE does not object to Grandview students taking MOVA courses during the school year, or even non-Grandview students taking these same MOVA courses in the summer," Wood pointed out. "It objects only to non-Grandview students enrolling in MOVA during the regular school year under MOCAP."
He added the MOVA courses' compliance with state requirements has never been called into question.
Following Monday's ruling, Estill is relieved her children will have the chance to access online schooling.
"My family and I are so pleased with the result of Judge Wood's ruling that our children cannot be denied access to the Missouri Virtual Academy (MOVA) virtual education program," she said Tuesday in a statement issued through the National Coalition for Public School Options, which supported her case.
"Now, with this court decision, my children are looking forward to the school year, and we look forward to working to get them adequately enrolled with the help of Fulton School District before school starts," Estill added.
Public school choice advocates are also celebrating Monday's ruling as a significant win.
State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, sponsored the bill establishing the MOCAP rules. He's previously spoken out in support of Estill's case.
"This ruling is not only a win for the Estill family, but for students across Missouri," Onder said in a Tuesday news release. "The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 603 so students could learn and succeed in whatever educational environment works best for them."
He characterized FPS's denial of enrollment as "outrageous."
"It is time for bureaucrats to end their obstructionism and follow the law," he said.
The ruling doesn't guarantee Estill's children will be able to enroll in the MOVA courses.
However, with MOVA added to DESE's list of available online courses, the ruling does mean Estill and her husband can restart the process of enrollment. That process involves meeting with school officials to determine whether online schooling and these particular courses are what's best for the children.
"There's no guarantee," FPS Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said. "There's a process we'll go through in evaluating the effectiveness and the children's needs."
He said the district hopes to make a determination by the time school starts, Aug. 21.
"You don't like to fight with parents, and we want to do the best thing for the kids," Cowherd said.
He added the district is also working to include clearer and more complete information about online schooling options on its website.