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."
In fact, 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 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 from 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.
Public school choice advocates are 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 SB 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.
However, this ruling doesn't automatically mean Estill will be able to enroll her children in the MOVA courses.
"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."
School officials and Estill will have to meet to determine whether online schooling, and MOVA's courses in particular, are in the children's best interest. That process is the same for all families hoping to enroll students in online schooling.
"We'll work through that process as the state department has required us," Cowherd said.
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.