State education agency to review online schools that get aid

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2011 - 10:53 PM

Commissioner Brenda Cassellius also said the department improperly released student data.

The Minnesota Department of Education will conduct a review of every online school that receives state aid, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said Friday.

Cassellius announced the internal review in a statement that also said the department had improperly released private data related to 20 students at BlueSky Online School.

Gov. Mark Dayton requested the review during a conversation Friday in which Cassellius told him about the improper data release, which happened Nov. 2, said department spokeswoman Charlene Briner.

Dayton's request was made partly "in light of the news from BlueSky," said his spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci. "Also, as the governor is learning about online schools in general, he asked the commissioner to review the entire program."

BlueSky, a charter school based in West St. Paul, has been under intense state scrutiny over allegations that it has issued diplomas to students who fell short of state graduation requirements.

The review of online schools will help to ensure that they "are fully meeting the academic needs of the students they serve, and to provide full and proper oversight of those schools," Cassellius said.

It's unclear how long the review will take or what changes it might lead to, Briner said Friday. It will include the state's 24 certified K-12 online learning providers, she said. More than 8,000 students were enrolled in those programs in 2009, according to the state.

The legislative auditor's office said last spring that it would review online learning programs to determine whether they give students more opportunities and what state officials do to make sure the programs are high-quality. That report has yet to be completed.

The improperly released student data, which included academic transcripts, were given to an "unauthorized individual" on Nov. 2, Briner said. That's the same day a department news release threatened "crippling fines" against the school if BlueSky officials could not prove they were following state law.

The mistake, made by a department employee, was discovered this week, Briner said.

The affected students have been notified of the breach, she said. To prevent future mistakes, the department has also tightened internal policies on how they respond to requests for public data.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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