When schools provide instruction or learning material by means of the internet, the following topics warrant consideration:
- Setting Goals
- Selecting Options
- Key Assurances of Readiness and Planning
- Data Privacy, Security and Digital Citizenship
- Attendance (Days and Hours of Instruction)
- Special Education
- Summer School
- Virtual Charter Schools
When designing online learning, explore the purposes and educational goals driving the design. Sample goals for online learning might be to:
- Implement new pedagogical approaches,
- Increase the number of course offerings available to students,
- Provide more flexible schedules for your students,
- Reach populations of students that you have been previously unable to reach,
- Provide "credit-recovery" options for students,
- Respond to parent and student expectations for online learning,
- Facilitate the implementation of a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework,
- Meet the individualized learning needs of students, or
- Increase efficiency.
Once goals are identified, explore which online learning option(s) would best meet your local needs. Some of the more common options are to:
- Integrate electronic tools and resources within traditional face-to-face courses,
- Provide individual online courses to resident students,
- Implement blended learning options for resident students,
- Provide an entire education online for your resident students,
- Provide services to students who are currently homeschooled, and/or
- Provide online or blended learning to students who open enroll from other districts (requires a virtual charter school).
Each online option has unique considerations. The flexibility to provide different options is explained in the department's guidance on Fostering Innovation (c, 2017). A detailed explanation of the the considerations specific to each option are explained in the department's document titled Educational Option in Wisconsin.
Key Assurances of Readiness and Planning
In order to achieve equitable participation in online learning, schools must remove barriers that impede learning in this environment.
- Internet connectivity – When students are required to complete work, do students have access to the internet at no cost? Students taking online courses outside of the school will need a computer and internet access. The Wisconsin Constitution requires that all students be provided with a free public education, so it is the school's responsibility to ensure that online students have appropriate access free of charge.
- Device for students at home – Is the district 1:1, using libraries, hotspots?
- Instructional process – Are students able to utilize hardware, software, broadband, collaboration tools, instructional resources, and communication options? Instructional processes must ensure equitable access by adequately preparing students to succeed in an online environment through high quality instruction, tools, and resources.
- Students receiving special education - Virtual instruction must incorporate the services and supports in each student's individualized educational program at no extra cost to parents. Wis. Stat. § 115.76(15).
- Parent involvement and training - Parents have to be knowledgeable of students' ability to access content online and ensure home access to the internet to eliminate the homework gap.
- Teacher licensing - Teachers must be licensed appropriately and trained in the design and implementation of digital learning.
Data Privacy, Security and Digital Citizenship
All school districts and online learning providers are expected to comply with all national and state regulations about student data privacy, security, and digital citizenship. Students are expected to develop an academic online presence and follow all school policies in regard to academic behaviors. See the DPI data privacy resource pages and digital citizenship resources.
Attendance and Testing
Tracking attendance at a school with blended or virtual options presents unique challenges. Districts have the flexibility to define attendance in local policy. When applicable, districts are strongly encouraged to have a separate local attendance policy for virtual or blended course offerings, which may use nontraditional data, such as course progress, engagement, synchronous instructional time, system activity, student logs, etc. to create an equivalency that meets traditional reporting requirements. Districts will also want to consult with their student information system (SIS) provider to confirm that the attendance policy can be supported by their SIS. Lastly, online students are still required to take the state standardized tests. Students receiving special education must be provided with testing accommodations described in their Individualized Education Programs if any. Arrangements must be made for the tests to be administered and proctored.
Following are examples of how districts may define and track attendance in a virtual or blended setting:
- A district has a policy that defines attendance in an online setting at the course level. In any given week, a student completing an assignment for a course is considered to have 100% attendance for that course for that week. If the student partially completes the assignment, the student would have partial attendance for the week. A school may enter daily attendance for the student throughout the week, correcting any entries at the end of the week, depending on how many assignments were completed.
- A district has a policy that defines attendance in an online setting in terms of 2-way communication per course. A student receiving and responding to communication from a teacher in a course is considered to be in attendance for that week for that course. Students not responding within the defined timeframe would be marked absent for the week for the course.
As a reminder, districts with virtual and blended options for students must be responsible for creating and maintaining attendance records for students. Districts cannot ask parents to maintain or provide data for attendance or grading. In addition, districts are encouraged to connect attendance expectations to district policy related to truancy. The following language is used by several districts in the state:
Students not meeting the minimum attendance requirement for any course (or combination of courses if enrolled in more than one course), for part or all of 5 or more days in which school is held, are considered to be habitually truant and, therefore, in violation of Wisconsin’s Compulsory Attendance Law. Wis. Stat. § 118.15 (1) (a). The law requires that a child attend school regularly until graduation from high school, or until the end of the semester in which he/she turns 18 years of age, or until he/she is excused from attendance by the school board.
Admission of Students with Disabilities
Admissions policies may not discriminate against students with disabilities. Admissions requirements must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A student with a disability who otherwise meets the admissions criteria of an online program, class, or virtual school may not be turned away solely because the student has a disability. Students eligible under either Section 504 or IDEA must be provided with reasonable accommodations to allow them to access the educational programming made available to all students. Admissions requirements must consider reasonable accommodations that could be made to allow the student to participate in the online program, class, or virtual school. Additionally, virtual charter schools must comply with the Wisconsin Charter School Law, which states that charter schools may not discriminate in admission or deny participation in any program or activity on the basis of a person's sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability. Wis. Stat. § 118.40 (4)(b)(2).
Providing Services to Students with Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs)
Online education has potential advantages and disadvantages for students with disabilities, as it does for any student, and must be considered individually for each student. Some students with disabilities do very well in online classes and virtual charter schools. Some students require assistive technologies, such as a screen reader or screen magnifier, that can be easily implemented so they can access an online learning environment. Others may require supports such as additional help with time management.
Under IDEA, all school districts must provide special education and related services at no cost to eligible students with disabilities. Each student receiving special education has an individualized educational program (IEP) outlining the special education, supplementary aids and services, and program supports for staff needed to address the disability. All students with IEPs will require some amount of specially designed instruction from an appropriately licensed teacher. If a student is receiving special education, the student's IEP team must consider whether the student’s needs identified in the IEP could be reasonably addressed in the online program, class or virtual school. The decision about the appropriateness of online education and the services, supports, or accommodations needed to allow participation by students with disabilities is made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with state and federal requirements. For more information about special education, please see the Special Education page.
Students with IEPs and Open Enrollment
The provisions described above apply to all students enrolled in virtual charter schools whether enrolled in their district of residence or through public school open enrollment. For more information about students with disabilities attending virtual schools under open enrollment, see the Open Enrollment Special Education page.
In August 2016, the United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued guidance to clarify some of the critical requirements in Part B of IDEA that apply to virtual schools.
In January 2017, the United States Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement posted resources addressing the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools.
Summer of 2020 - Summer and Interim Guidelines due to COVID-19
DPI has submitted for publication an emergency rule revision to PI 17 that expands the ability to use online instruction for summer school and count instructional minutes for membership, in order to ensure districts have the flexibility they may need to address the uncertainties posed by COVID-19. The emergency rule will go into effect on May 5, 2020, and be in place for the summer of 2020. It does not change the types of classes that can be offered through summer school, but rather allows districts to offer those classes in an online format for all grades K-12, expanding the online option that is currently limited to credit-bearing courses in grades 7-12.
For more information, please visit the School Finance Summer and Interim Session webpage for the ongoing updates about K-12 program offerings for the summer of 2020.
Virtual Charter School
As explained in the online learning options page, the only option to provide virtual education to open enrolled students is a virtual charter school. Some considerations are:
- Charter school requirements – Virtual charter schools must meet the requirements that apply to all charter schools.
- Additional requirements – In addition, state statutes contain specific requirements that must be met by virtual charter schools. See Wis. Stats. § 118.40 (8).
- Not homeschooling – A virtual charter school is different from a home-based private education program (homeschooling) and cannot be treated as a version of homeschooling.
For Wisconsin teachers of students engaged in online learning in virtual charter schools and traditional public schools, all standard licensing requirements apply. If a district or charter school contracts for online courses and the teacher is located in another state, that teacher does not have to hold a Wisconsin license if the teacher holds a valid license or permit to teach the corresponding subject and grade level in his/her home state (see Wis. Stat. 118.19(1b)). For teachers of students engaged in online learning in charter schools that are not virtual charter schools (and therefore unavailable to nonresident students attending virtually), all charter school licensing requirements apply.