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story.lead_photo.caption 2020 photo: Missouri Capitol dome Photo by Liv Paggiarino / Fulton Sun.

A Missouri Legislature joint committee is primed to request changes to a state virtual education program.

The Joint Committee on Education held a hearing Wednesday on student enrollment issues in the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program.

MOCAP began its offerings with the 2019-20 school year, though there was an earlier iteration of the program called the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program.

MOCAP offers students the ability "to take an entire course from any internet-connected computer, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. MOCAP's mission is to offer Missouri students equal access to a wide range of high quality courses, flexibility in scheduling, and interactive online learning," according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

DESE and the State Board of Education oversee administration and quality assurance of the program, including approving the list of virtual courses in a catalog.

Wednesday's hearing opened with testimony from virtual education advocates, including attorney Josh Schindler, who has represented clients in lawsuits against school districts — including Fulton Public Schools — alleging state law has been violated by students not being allowed to access virtual education.

Schindler said a problem with current state law is that school districts are the gatekeepers of who gets approved for MOCAP — and he said he wanted the governor to waive that requirement, particularly given the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for remote learning.

At least some members of the committee agreed Wednesday on a course of quick action being taken, and committee Chairman Rep. Dean Dohrman, R-La Monte, said he could draft a letter to Gov. Mike Parson with concerns.

State Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said she had also spoken with the governor's office multiple times about the issue.

The committee asked Wednesday of Michael Harris — DESE's chief of governmental relations — to send a list of districts where applications for virtual learning had allegedly been stalled but where the district has also said no applications are pending.

No school districts testified Wednesday.

According to DESE, students may appeal if denied access to a MOCAP course, and parents or guardians "must first work with (a local school district) before submitting the appeal to DESE. Parents/guardians may only submit the documentation provided by the local school board to the MOCAP appeal website."

The appeals process only applies to MOCAP courses offered during the regular school year and also not to non-MOCAP-approved courses.

State Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, was among committee members who had hesitations about seeking executive action, at least before gathering more information from DESE and school districts on the issue.

In the meantime, Harris said, approximately 600 students are enrolled in MOCAP — half of them full time — with 11 approved program providers, whom school districts may directly contract with.

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