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Florida Department of Ed Investigating K12 Teacher Certifications

The Florida Department of Education has launched an investigation of K12's Florida Virtual Academy following concerns from Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) that the company may be using teachers that are not state certified or are not certified in the subjects they're teaching.

The investigation began in January after a teacher working for K12, Amy Capelle, was asked by Project Manager Samantha Gilormini to sign class rosters stating that she had taught students whom she had never met. The class list that Capelle was asked to sign included 112 entries and only seven students that Capelle had actually taught.

In a February 2011 email that Capelle later forwarded to SCPS, Gilormini wrote "Some teachers may notice a few extra students not on their class roll and that is due to certification issues. In the virtual setting any teacher can teach the students the subjects  but the districts like to have certified teachers in each subject. So if you see your name next to a student that might not be yours it's because you were qualified to teach that subject and we needed to put your name there."

When K12 began operating the Seminole County Virtual School (SCVS) in 2009, the company asked the district if it could use uncertified teachers who would be overseen by certified instructors known as teachers of record, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, who broke the story today along with StateImpact Florida. The request was denied, owing to a Florida law that requires teachers to be state certified.

Another K12 employee, Academic Administrator Gila Tuchman, signed the roster for Capelle. Gilormini then sent that roster to Dominique Ballacchino, SCVS registrar, stating that Capelle was one of "two teachers that were not available to sign their class roll."

After Capelle brought her concerns to the district, SCPS surveyed the parents of students who had attended the virtual school to see if the names of the teachers on the class rolls matched the teachers who had instructed their children. Findings of the survey include:

  • Sixty-one of the school's 88 students were listed with one or more teachers they did not have;
  • Some parents said their children had a teacher who did not appear on any class rolls;
  • Three parents said that their students hadn't attended a class at all, despite the fact that it was signed for by a K12 teacher; and
  • Three teachers who had signed rolls, Hartman, Hoyle, and Reckard, claiming that they taught students in physical education, art, and music, respectively, were not confirmed by a single parent.

In response to the investigation, K12 released a statement today denying the charges. The company claims in the statement that it began an internal investigation into the claims as soon as it received the relevant documents and has worked with the Inspector General for the Florida department of Ed (IG) to arrange "interviews of the relevant staff and access to all relevant records."

"However, K12, after its own investigation and that of the independent counsel, does not believe that the conclusions drawn in the Seminole Materials about teacher certification issues related to the instruction of the 88 students involved in the relevant Survey 3 report are correct," reads the statement in part. "We look forward to continued cooperation with the IG as that office completes its work. Conclusions prior to the completion of that work are premature."

K12's statement also said "K12 respects the integrity of the IG’s process, and therefore will not comment on the substance of that process until the IG has had the time to complete the work and issue its finding."

Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which is not affiliated with K12, the Florida Virtual Academy, or the Seminole County Virtual School, has also released a statement following the news.

FLVS "has received many calls from news media today regarding the Florida Department of Education’s investigation of K12, Inc," according to the statement. "Many reporters have been confused by the similarity of the name of Florida Virtual School to Florida Virtual Academy.

"Florida Virtual School, the statewide public online school district that has been serving the state of Florida for 15 years, is not affiliated with the for-profit company K12, Inc. which operates in Florida as Florida Virtual Academy.

"Florida Virtual School instructors are highly qualified and Florida certified in the subject areas for which they teach, of which more than 100 are national board certified. In addition, Florida Virtual School is performance-based funded, only receiving state funding when a student successfully completes a half-credit course."

THEJournal.com will be following this story in the coming days and weeks with updates as new information becomes available.

To see the documents that sparked the investigation, visit fcir.org.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].