‘Virtual school’ fights to stay open, judge to review appeal

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New Mexico’s largest virtual school was slated to shut down Saturday, but a judge put that on hold, keeping Connections Academy open for now.

The school has grown rapidly to nearly 2,000 online students in five years — but high enrollment is actually one of several problems plaguing the K-12 virtual school.

After two “F” grades from the state, the Public Education Department does not want to renew its charter contract.

Now, families and staff are hopeful it’s not the end after a judge said they will review an appeal by the school.

“I think they’re disappointed that the state hasn’t seen the value of the school and we’re frustrated, very frustrated that we’re on the margins in terms of several different data points,” said Connections Academy Board Member Mark Boitano.

He said the school met 75 percent of the goals — or data points — outlined by the state, like graduation rates and performance in certain areas.

Despite the shortcomings, the board says the school is being unfairly assessed.

“The state will ding you a whole grade if you don’t test 95 percent of your students,” said Boitano.

The school missed that mark by 12 students last year. A 20 to 25 percent drop-out rate is another issue.

One graduate says it is a rigorous program, which prepares students for college.

“Technology’s advancing so much that I feel like it’s a really good option to be able to have online school just because of where we are in today’s society,” said this year’s valedictorian Ivana Corley.

Corley says this alternative school is necessary for students with busy schedules.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me to be flexible and how to manage my own schedule, that’s been one of the biggest things,” said Corley.

The school now hopes that a district court judge recognizes its worth and hard work to address the problems.

“The court has found sufficient evidence for us to bring our appeal so that they can examine the facts of the case,” said Boitano.

Board members say the school deserves a different evaluation process because it has unique challenges that differ from classroom-based schools.

KRQE News 13 reached out to PED for comment and did not hear back.

Connections Academy will remain open, with no word on when a ruling could be made.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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