Board of Ed Committee Sends Rule Requiring School Course Offerings to SBOE

After debate, the State Board of Education Emerging Issues Committee voted to recommend that the full State Board of Education (SBOE) send the rule to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) that would have the effect of requiring chartered nonpublic schools to offer at least one high school-level course in one of the following subject areas: foreign language, technology, family and consumer sciences or business education.

But in discussion, board members voiced concerns that while a version of the rule has been on the books since at least 2006, that rule has not been enforced over the past 15 years -- an enforcement oversight that drew the ire of Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), who was in attendance.

He asked, "So 15 years ago, all these schools would have signed off on this, and nobody at [the Ohio Department of Education] (ODE) followed up to see if they were compliant for last 15 years?"

ODE Office of Nonpublic Educational Options Director Sue Cosmo and Executive Director of Field Relations Scott Hunt repeatedly told Brenner and committee members that while ODE conducts onsite inspections when schools are first chartered, the department only conducts rule enforcement about mandated course offerings when it receives complaints that a school is out of compliance.

Brenner went on to recommend that the committee either reach out to the Legislature with a request to codify the existing practice of chartered nonpublic schools' not being required to offer one of the specified courses, or that it submit the rule to JCARR, with committee members eventually choosing the latter.

In describing the rule's history, committee member Mike Toal explained that there have historically been different operating standards for public and nonpublic schools, and so references to "the school" or "the district" in Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) were considered references to public schools. The language in question, contained in OAC 3301-35-04 (B)(1), originally specified that school districts shall offer all the specified courses.

And in 2019, Toal added, ODE legal staff sought to "clarify" the rule by adding explicit references to chartered nonpublic schools, and that chartered nonpublic schools must offer all the specified courses. ODE legal staff said the original definition of "school district" included chartered nonpublic schools, so the change truly was a clarification rather than a substantive one, despite Toal's assertions that references to "school" and "district" in OAC meant public ones in practice and that the change could result in nonpublic schools' having their charters revoked.

Since ODE legal staff's change in 2019, the rule has since been amended so that the explicit references to chartered nonpublic schools have stayed in, but language specifying which courses must be offered has been removed. The result is that policy is deferred to what's already in Ohio Revised Code (ORC) -- that per the state's graduation requirements, all the state's schools are to offer high school-level instruction in at least one of the following areas: foreign language, technology, family and consumer sciences or business education.

The rule change additionally prompted an objection from the state's Common Sense Initiative (CSI) asking the department to reinstate the full list of required courses in rule. "The proposed rule change will have a direct and adverse impact on businesses who depend on Ohio’s education system to train workers to fill its workforce needs," the letter from CSI to ODE reads.

In ODE's own public comment period, the department received two letters from chartered nonpublic school advocates asking for the course mandates not to be required, as well as many letters from global language teachers and other teachers asking for their courses to be required offerings.

The rule now heads to the full board.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on April 12, 2021.  Copyright 2021 Hannah News Service, Inc.