Imagine you are a parent whose child doesn’t thrive in a school setting and works at a different pace than other students. Your child doesn’t feel comfortable asking questions in class, and if they did ask, they might risk embarrassment in front of their peers.

What if there was a way for your child to work at a personalized pace, free to ask a teacher any questions without the pressure of peers watching them?

That option now exists in Missouri through virtual online education. A Fulton family fought and won a court case against its school district and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to make the program available for not only the family’s children but also many K-12 children across the state.

Miya and Mitchell Estill, who are both deaf, enrolled their three children in the Missouri Virtual Academy, or MOVA, online course program for the fall 2019 semester. Like many other virtual online education course providers, the MOVA program allows students to learn at their own pace, a feature especially attractive to the family.

“My husband and I decided that this was the option we had to take for the family, because one (child) had difficulties in school as well as the peer pressure issues, one had behavioral issues,” Miya Estill wrote in an email. “I wanted them to each have their own individualized learning plan where they could stay on their pace, instead of having some of them skipping grades just because they excelled or held back just because they couldn’t keep up with the school’s pace.”

Their 13-year-old daughter had been struggling in school the most. Although she felt comfortable speaking English, her writing skills matched the structure of sign language more than English. As a result, she would find herself falling behind her peers at school. In addition, she struggled with peer pressure and bullying from her classmates.

According to Mitchell Estill, his daughter’s teachers would not truly give her the personal attention she needed to grow, so they saw the MOVA program — with its individual pace-setting abilities — as a hopeful option. For their daughter, who enjoys science and history, this individualized pace-monitoring has proven to be particularly helpful, providing her the opportunity to interact with teachers who can give her the focused attention she needs.

She had previously used a 504 plan, a school-created program that provided her with text-to-speech accommodations and the ability to take exams in a room apart from her classmates to give her any extra time she needed. These provisions, however, also made her feel singled out. But with the MOVA program that has not been a problem, and she has felt free to go at her own pace.

“I like that it’s not as hard as it would be in school. It’s still hard, but it’s not too hard,” she said. “And then when you need help, you can just ask the teacher yourself, and you don’t have to be embarrassed by asking in front of a whole class or anything.”

The Estills’ 10-year-old son struggled in school in a different way. Because of some social, emotional and behavioral difficulties, he preferred to spend time with friends instead of focusing in class. The MOVA program courses have helped him to remain focused on coursework.

Their youngest daughter, who enjoys math, science and physical education, had previously done very well in school. Miya and Mitchell enrolled the 7-year-old in the program, however, to work alongside her brother.

Despite the Estills’ confidence in their choice to try out the MOVA program, enrolling was a difficult task. Miya Estill filed a civil suit against Fulton Public Schools and DESE after the school district denied her attempt to enroll her three children in the program. Fulton Public Schools had argued that the MOVA program had not been approved by DESE, and the issue went to court.

“What we were trying to tell the school is that we do know what is the best interest of our child,” Mitchell Estill said. “We are trying to give our child every part of what they need.”

The judge ruled in favor of the family and required DESE to immediately approve the MOVA program. The only thing left for the family to do was discuss with Fulton school officials whether the MOVA program was the best option for the children.

School officials approved the students’ enrollment in the program for the fall 2019 semester.

The family recently moved out of Fulton but is continuing the coursework.

Many families have also decided the virtual online education model is the best option for their children. Joshua Schindler, the attorney for the Estills in the case, said he has worked with more than 10 families across the state to secure this education option.

MOVA and other programsThe MOVA program is sponsored by the Grandview R-II School District. MOVA, along with numerous other virtual online programs, is provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education through the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program, or MOCAP.

The 2019-20 academic year is the first year this virtual option has been approved and provided by DESE for use statewide, but the agency had yet to approve a majority of the programs for use until the Estills sued. Prior to the ruling, a single fifth-grade English option was the only approved course. Now, if approved by their particular school district, students can participate in any of the 10 DESE-approved programs during spring and fall semesters. These programs, however, are not offered during the summer.

According to its website, the MOVA program “is committed to partnering with families across the state and helping K-12 students discover their unique potential with personalized learning and the right tools.”

In order to achieve this, MOVA provides a number of services:

  • Individualized Learning Plans to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses (if they are taking three or more courses).
  • Missouri-certified teachers who guide students at a personalized pace.
  • Highly interactive coursework.
  • Dedicated school support system.
  • Field trips, social events and clubs.

MOVA is one of 10 virtual online education providers approved by DESE. Like MOVA, the others provide interactive coursework, personalized instruction and individual pace-setting abilities. In order to enroll a student in these courses, school districts need to send the student’s MOSIS ID and date of birth to the course provider.

Districts may allow students to use virtual online education providers that are not supplied through MOCAP, but the districts must first ensure that the program meets the statutory requirements. For more information, visit the MOCAP website.

Judy Lucas contributed to this story.  

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

  • I am a fall 2019 state government reporter. I am studying data journalism. Reach me at lilliehegeman@gmail.com or at 816-244-7488 with story tips and ideas.

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