Should the students enrolled in the Warren County School District's cyberschool program be kept academically separate from students attending the district's regular schools?
Jessica Fields' parents, Diana Swanson and Tim Fields, believe that should be the case.
According to Swanson and Fields, they were under the impression that their daughter was ranked second in the Sheffield High School senior class standings up until two days before graduation ceremonies were held last month. Jessica Fields was accepted at West Virginia University, and was slated to receive a scholarship under the stipulation that she finished second in her class.
She finished third bumped down a notch by one of the district's cyberschool students.
Swanson and Fields were stunned. Their daughter was devastated.
"She was very upset," Swanson said. "She filled out all her things for college, her transcripts everything."
According to Swanson, her daughter asked her guidance counselor on a regular basis about her class standing. "She had no clue," Swanson said.
When asked, the Warren County School District offered a simple explanation for what had happened: students' class standings are not official until Advanced Placement and honors classes are weighted into their grade point averages. In Jessica Fields' case, she didn't take as many AP courses as the cyber student, who jumped ahead of her in the Sheffield senior class standings.
"The policy doesn't have us add the weight until the end," said Amanda Hetrick, the district's director of secondary education. "Final rankings can be very deceptive. It's not added as we go along. You might have been ranked number five all year, but because you've taken more AP classes or honors classes, that could bump you. Those things do happen."
Separate . . . but equal?
Should the district's cyberstudents be considered part of the district's regular student body?
Tim Fields is vehemently against it.
"I don't believe that cyberschool students should even be active with the student body," Fields said. "I feel that Jessie and the other kids in her position are being discriminated against. They aren't even given the opportunity to take the other classes the cyber kids can take. Jessie took every (AP and honors class) she could take."
Fields said he believes that students in the district's sanctioned cyberschool program should receive a separate diploma and be kept outside the regular school rankings. He also questioned the system in place that monitors cyber students to ensure they are not cheating in their cyber classes.
"It's unregulated," Fields said. "It puts the other kids at a direct disadvantage."
"No one is watching them," Swanson said. "There is no supervision. They are not monitored by a teacher in that room when they take a test."
According to Hetrick, the district has a cyberschool coordinator whose job is to manage the district's program. "We monitor how much time the student is spending on the computer. They are required to submit a log in affect that they are actually attending their classes."
As for test-taking, Hetrick said the district works with 14 different cyberschool providers through Intermediate Unit 5. "They all have different security measures," she said. "Some are proctored."
When asked what would stop a cyber student from cheating on an unproctored test, Hetrick replied, "What's to stop them in a classroom?"
"They can do their studies online," Fields said, "but I think they should have to go to the Career Center and take their exams under supervision."
"What gives them the right to take over class rankings?" Swanson asked. "Our kids have to go to school every day and deal with that pressure. It's not fair. It's very biased. It's not right."
According to officials, the district's Policy 9742 is what gives district cyberstudents the right to be included in class rankings. The policy reads:
All curricular areas, whether they are special education, vocational, academic, or cyber are used to determine the grade average, which are then in turn used to determine the final class ranking at the end of the senior year.
According to Hetrick, students enrolled in the district's cyberschool program are free to select courses that might not be offered at their area school. "We wanted students to be able to choose from more options," she said. "It's just a different mode of delivery."
Hetrick said that there is a wider selection of AP and honors classes available through the district's cyberschool program than what is offered in the smaller schools in the district. However, she pointed out that, "any student can be a blended cyber student, so all students have the opportunity."
"It is in the student handbook which parents must sign that they have read each school year," Hetrick said. "It is on the website and there are liaisons for the program for each attendance area, as well as a district coordinator who can provide information to parents. Guidance counselors and principals are also fully aware of the program and talk to students and parents."
Despite the district's efforts to inform parents and students of a blended cyberschool option, Swanson said she was caught unaware. She says she's not the only parent: she was approached by several after a school board meeting last month, during which she explained what had happened to her daughter.
"After the meeting, parents were coming up to us and saying, 'You're kidding. We didn't even know that this goes on. We never even heard of cyberschooling.'"
"I've talked to teachers, I've talked to a couple people from the school board. They said they didn't think it was fair, either. I was told they knew something like this was eventually going to happen. Why didn't they do something to stop this?"