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Fox Valley virtual charter group withdrew proposal before decisive vote

CHICAGO – A nonprofit organization trying to start a virtual charter school in the Fox Valley withdrew its proposal before a state commission had the chance Tuesday to decide whether to deny the group’s appeal.

Virtual Learning Solutions indicated in a letter sent to the Illinois State Charter School Commission early Monday evening that the nonprofit was giving up its appeal because of a newly enacted moratorium that prohibits the creation of any new virtual charter school until April.

The withdrawal ends Virtual Learning’s effort to bring an online-only charter school to the Fox Valley spanning 18 districts, including Batavia School District 101, St. Charles School District 303, Geneva School District 304 and Kaneland School District 302.

“Virtual Learning Solutions has determined that the legislation makes it impossible for Virtual Learning Solutions to proceed with the appeals because, even if the appeals were granted, the moratorium precludes Virtual Learning Solutions from fulfilling its expressed intention ... to begin operations during the 2013-14 school year,” Ted Dabrowski, Virtual Learning’s president, said in the letter.

The commission voted 9-0 to accept Virtual Learning’s withdrawal during a regular board meeting in Chicago.

The commission was originally going to decide whether to deny the appeal, after the commission’s staff had recommended to reject it because of the moratorium.

The withdrawal was the conclusion of a lengthy conflict between Virtual Learning and the 18 school districts. It began in March, when the nonprofit initially presented its proposal.

All 18 districts rejected the virtual charter proposal, arguing that Virtual Learning did not address their individual concerns about the charter school’s operating costs, curriculum and structure.

Virtual Learning then sought to reverse all 18 district denials through the state charter commission, which was planning to hear the appeal until Gov. Pat Quinn signed the moratorium into law May 24.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, introduced the moratorium legislation that targeted virtual charter schools after Virtual Learning started meeting with school districts.

It requires the commission to study the issue of virtual charter schools and present a report to lawmakers by March 2014.

Former Virtual Learning President Sharnell Jackson also resigned from the nonprofit after Quinn signed the legislation. Dabrowski, Virtual Learning’s secretary, has since filled Jackson’s role.

Virtual Learning’s retraction means a victory for the school districts, which were preparing all spring for a lengthy appeals process, said attorney Brian Crowley.

His Chicago firm, Franczek Radelet, represents four districts, including District 300, Elgin School District 46, Plainfield District 202 and Wheaton Warrenville School District 200, affected by the defunct charter proposal.

“We are pleased,” Crowley said after the commission’s vote.

“The appeals were going to incur a ton of legal fees and a ton of school district time. There were going to be interviews, hearings for a matter that frankly the public didn’t seem to support.”

During the meeting, the charter commission also detailed the timeline for its virtual charter report to the Illinois Legislature.

The commission will spend $10,000 in the coming year to gather research, conduct meetings and produce the study, which should be distributed by March 1.

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