DPI sued over ‘virtual instruction’ ban for private schools

Posted at 5:30 p.m. on March 27, 2019

The Brillion News

WAUKESHA – Attorneys for the public interest law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), on March 27 sued the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

On behalf of School Choice Wisconsin Action, WILL sued State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Stanford Taylor and the DPI, for what the suit calls their unfair, illegal treatment of private schools in Wisconsin’s choice programs.

The suit said the DPI is denying private choice schools the opportunity to fully utilize online, virtual learning as part of classroom instruction. The case developed due to massive snowstorms and sub-zero weather.

Wisconsin’s schools scrambled to make-up for cancelled class time, and many public schools used on-line “virtual instruction” where students used tablets, laptops, and smart phones to participate in classroom activities from home.

WILL said the DPI allows public schools to count virtual instruction towards the hourly pupil instruction requirements. But last month, DPI determined that private schools in the choice program cannot count virtual instruction towards their hourly pupil instruction requirements.

WILL said that allows public schools to take advantage of an innovative teaching tool, but DPI refuses to let choice schools have that same right.

This is the second time WILL has sued State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor since her appointment in January.

Wisconsin law requires all public and private schools in the choice programs to provide specific hours of direct pupil instruction: for grades 1-6, at least 1,050 hours and for grades 7-12, at least 1,137 hours. DPI has said that public schools can count “virtual instruction” towards the “direct pupil instruction” requirements but private choice schools cannot.

The suit says that state law does not empower DPI to make such a decision. And if they were to do it, they need to go through the rule-making process, which they have not.

See an expanded story on this lawsuit in the April 4, 2019, print edition of The Brillion News.

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