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Online students now included

Jason Strykowski, of the Record Staff

Students who attend virtual charter schools will soon have the opportunity to participate in real extra-curricular activities.

Last March the Utah State Legislature passed a bill to designate all online and charter students as eligible for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities at public schools. Last week, they gave preliminary approval to a payment plan that will fix costs for students interested in taking advantage of this arrangement.

The bill provides for a tier-based fee schedule that assigns costs to different types of after-school activities. For instance, football is designated as a Tier 1 activity and costs a student-athlete $600 unless that student is in a larger district, in which case the fee drops. A Tier 3 activity like tennis, in comparison, only costs a student some $150. The charter school will be responsible for paying these fees to the public school that hosts the activity.

Students will be able to take part in these activities, as long as they pay the other requisite fees and join public schools that they would normally attend along district boundary lines.

These rules will also apply to any online or virtual school in which a student has enrolled. Consequently, a student who lives in Park City may attend an online high school and still join sports teams at a Park City school.

The major drawback to this plan, said Carol Lear, law and legislation director for the Utah State Board of Education, is that most online schools do not have an operating budget hearty enough to support students who may want to take advantage of this arrangement. Although an opportunity for under- the-table financial deals could exist, the rule and the legislation were designed to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of their financial situation.

Public schools are required not to charge any additional fees to the charter student. Rather, the charter school itself will be responsible for paying any additional monies not covered by the tier fee, with the exception of student participation charges. As most charter schools receive state funding, this is simply an extra transfer of money.

The structure for co-curricular activities, is slightly more flexible. Charter students interested in joining debate, drama or chorus groups on the campus of their local school may do so after the involved schools negotiate a reasonable fee for that particular activity.

The co-curricular activity provisions are slightly more difficult to assign numbers to many of the activities take place during school hours and consequently draw state funds. A charter school student who attends a drama class at a public school would be something of a territorial issue said Lear. The state has to apportion funds to schools based on population and hours, so a student that attends two different schools poses a significant problem.

This rule goes into effect this upcoming school year, and, in some sense, will be a trial period. Most students who take advantage of charter schools are looking to break away from traditional schools, said Lear, and might not be interested in returning to those schools for daytime activities. But, after-school activities, she continued, could provide these same students with some unique opportunities.


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