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Senator supports Fulton family's FPS lawsuit

Senator supports Fulton family's FPS lawsuit

July 17th, 2019 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

A state legislator has voiced support for a Fulton family suing Fulton Public Schools.

In "Miya Estill v. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education et. al.," filed earlier this month, Estill claims FPS violated state law by not allowing her children to access a particular virtual education program through the school district. Namely, the civil suit states, FPS has violated the provisions of Senate Bill 603, which was signed into law in 2018.

State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, who sponsored the bill, spoke up to back Estill's cause. Onder is a member of the state Senate's education committee.

"It is imperative for students to access the education and courses they need to succeed," Onder said in a news release. "Senate Bill 603 was intended to expand opportunities for students to learn in an environment that works best for them, even if it is outside of the traditional classroom."

Filed with the Cole County Circuit Court, the petition alleges Estill attempted to enroll her three children in a series of online courses called MOVA. The courses are offered at another school district, Grandview R-2.

According to Estill, on May 22, FPS denied her request by email, stating "we don't use other districts' online curriculum" and no K-5 courses are available through the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program.

On June 20, FPS wrote the MOVA courses had not been approved by DESE, Estill claims.

FPS spokeswoman Karen Snethen confirmed via email Monday that DESE has not currently approved any comprehensive elementary programs, though a few courses for fifth-graders are available.

The petition argues that by statute, individual school districts (not DESE) must determine whether online programs meet required standards. It cites RSMo 161.670, which states "any online course or virtual program offered by a school district which meets the requirements shall be automatically approved to participate in (MOCAP)."

Snethen said students are not guaranteed enrollment in MOCAP-approved courses through FPS.

"Should a current approved virtual course be requested, FPS officials will follow Board of Education policy and review the request for the 'best educational interest' of the student, thereby making a determination," she stated.

Because Grandview has determined MOVA courses meet standards and offers them to students, they should be automatically approved as MOCAP options, Estill's petition and Onder suggest.

Onder said SB 603 was intended to expand opportunities for eligible students to access online education, also known as virtual education, through their school if the provider meets certain requirements. But some families, such as Estill's, are facing barriers in receiving its benefits, he stated.

Onder said he believes MOVA meets the requirements to be used by the Fulton family, and they are being wrongfully denied access to educational options.

"It is outrageous that DESE and the Fulton School District are denying children the educational opportunities that are their right under Missouri law," Onder said. "I support the Estill family as they fight for their child and for other Missouri children. It is my hope that this case helps fulfill SB 603's purpose of allowing students access to the education they deserve."

An FPS representative said Tuesday that the school's administration could not comment on pending litigation. The district and other defendants do not appear to have filed any responses in the case, according to online court records.