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Communication problems at a virtual school cost one public school district money

Officials at a southwest Michigan school district are asking the state’s superintendent to return close to half a million dollars. The state deducted the money from the Gull Lake Community Schools district last school year over mistakes the state says the district made with its new virtual school.

"For an online course there has to be two way communication a number of times during the semester. And what happened is that – well they weren’t able to meet that requirement. They weren’t able to show us there was two way communication,” Ellis said.

Ellis says there was a lot of evidence teachers tried communicating with students via email. But very few students communicated back, and that violates the rules. So the state didn’t count those students and deducted that amount from the district’s per-pupil allocation.

Ellis says two-way communication is vital to student success in online courses.

"It’s important to ensure that students get a high-quality education and that they comprehend what they are learning and that that two way communication continues to exist,” Ellis said.

Gull Lake’s superintendent sited his appeal to the state superintendent when he declined to comment for this story.

However, the district’s attorney Robert Dietzel of the Thrun Law Firm told the Kalamazoo Gazette and MLive.com the district "lost a half-million dollars on a terrible technicality." Dietzel did not return my requests for an interivew.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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