Schools accused of extorting parents to educate children

COVID-19 has disrupted the world’s economy, the world’s health, the U.S. presidential election, and the educating of children in virtually all 50 states.

Now as the fall school term approaches, many districts are keeping their buildings closed, insisting that students do online school.

In Arizona, there’s a twist, however.

There, school buildings have been ordered to be closed because of the danger of coronavirus. However, officials in the education industry have told parents their children can come to those same buildings and do online school from there – for an enormous extra fee of $160 per week per child.

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The issue is being addressed by the American Center for Law & Justice, which has written to one district, the Gilbert Public Schools, about the apparent conflict between the district’s money-making plan and the state’s constitution, which requires free education.

It wrote a letter to Supt. Shane McCord, noting the district’s announcement about “childcare” at nine school buildings that otherwise would be used for classes.

There, students will be in groups of 10 with activities including games, arts/crafts, gaming as well as time for “online coursework completion and support.”

At a cost of $160 per week per child.

The ACLJ said, “As we understand it, GPS schools will begin on August 5, 2020, and transition to on-campus learning n August 17,2020. Parents willing and able to pay an extra amount may have their children present in a GPS classroom starting August 5, 2020, which is the date school was set to begin in normal course, to participate in ‘online learning,’ where the ‘students will be working with their classroom teachers and classmates,’ with a ‘curriculum’ and ‘online coursework completion and support.'”

But that means parents “must pay as much as $160/week for their child to have access to a classroom on a public schoo9l campus for a learning, during a time (from August 5 to at least August 17) that school access would have been provided, but is not, due to public safety concerns.”

The letter cites the apparent conflict with the ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court that “instruction in high as well as in common schools shall be absolutely free.”

“It appears that GPS’s action to require payment for the provision of classroom access on school premises during school hours, under any title or categorization, to our client’s child is ultra vires and unlawful, and violates the Arizona Constitution,” ACLJ said.

The ACLJ explained online that the district was using coronavirus “as an excuse to extort money from working parents in need.”

The big issue is that in many families both parents work, and are not able to be fulltime homeschool teachers. The school offering appears to be a way to address that – at a cost.

“With many schools remaining shuttered for the time being, the additional burden of at-home, virtual learning has been dropped squarely on parents’ shoulders. Households where mom and dad both work, or single parent families, are desperately trying to figure out how they’re going to juggle the two highest priorities in their lives – caring for their children and working to support them – simultaneously,” the ACLU said in its report.

“We’re trying to help them find solutions to care for their kids and provide them with adequate educational opportunities. What we didn’t anticipate was some public schools telling parents that while it’s not safe for their children to return to school due to the coronavirus, they can come to the SAME BUILDINGS as a ‘childcare’ center . . . for an additional fee,” the organization reported.

The ACLJ report said, “That’s right: schools that have been deemed unsafe for students and teachers to attend for normal taxpayer-funded classes are somehow perfectly fine for childcare if you pay extra. If a family has three children, that’s nearly $500 out of pocket for one week, on top of the taxes they’re already paying that support these schools. And based on the last few months, it seems very likely the closures will continue to be extended, as will those fees.”

The organization said there are many problems that have erupted because of coronavirus. It said it is working with hundreds of families to make their way through the obstacles and still protect their children.

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