An embattled online high school scheduled to close permanently will now be allowed to remain open, following a legal settlement with the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.
The charter school board in February voted 4-1 to shutter Nevada Connections Academy’s middle and high school over concerns about its poor academic performance. The fully virtual school had already voluntarily agreed to close its elementary school after several years of underperformance.
NCA sought a court reversal of the charter school board decisions and filed preliminary injunctions to keep both schools open while the litigation was pending. The First Judicial District Court in Carson City denied the school’s request regarding the middle school but granted it for the high school.
The newly reached settlement, which the charter school board unanimously approved during a special meeting Tuesday, keeps NCA high school open for an additional three academic years. Three years is the shortest contract period allowed by state statute. Enrollment for NCA high school’s freshman and sophomore grade levels will be capped at 850 total. Enrollment for juniors and seniors will be limited to students already enrolled at the school.
NCA’s middle and elementary schools will close as scheduled.
If the high school receives a 1-star rating under the performance framework set by the Nevada Department of Education, it will be forced to close before that three years is up.
Rebecca Feiden, executive director at the charter school authority, expressed satisfaction over the settlement being reached but emphasized that the virtual school is still a long way from being considered in the good graces of the authority. She said the settlement will give students currently enrolled at the school some sense of clarity on where they will be enrolled next school year, something that seems especially important amid a pandemic that has shut down all physical schools for the rest of the current academic year. It will also save both the school and the authority from expending resources on the courtroom, allowing them to “focus on kids.”
“I am optimistic, cautiously, that they will be able to take advantage of this opportunity,” added Feiden. “I think this is the best path forward, but we certainly are not satisfied with the school’s performance.”
Chris McBride, the executive director at NCA, says the school will focus on raising its graduation rate, ACT scores and other academic measures. He says there will be a heavy emphasis on college and career readiness. Improving outcomes in this area could boost the school into a 3-star rating with the state.
“It was very clear from the authority that we need to focus on a small number of grade levels to really focus our efforts and demonstrate we can meet their expectations,” he said. “They’re not wrong in having those expectations.”
The high school currently has a 1-star rating from the state. NCA representatives have argued the low rating is a reflection of the star rating “goalposts being changed” by the state. The school has reported progress over recent years. It most recently reported a graduation rate of 64 percent, which is up from 45 percent two years earlier but still significantly behind the statewide graduation rate of 85 percent.
Nevada Connections was founded in 2007 and is part of Connections Academy LLC, a nationwide network of online schools. Connections Academy LLC is a part of the British-owned publishing, testing and digital education giant Pearson Education.