Georgia DOE blasts Georgia Cyber Academy, threatens to pull charter in report

The Georgia Department of Education has told the Georgia Cyber Academy that it will begin proceedings in April to shut down the online charter school if it fails to address numerous issues in its handling of special education students.

Those concerns, spelled out in a report delivered to GCA on Tuesday, include failure to obtain individualized education plans special education students are taught from, problems in resolving parental complaints and failure to offer the individualized instruction special education students are eligible to receive under federal law.

With 12,000 students, GCA is the largest public school in the state. The report says GCA’s special education problems stretch back to 2009, when the scores of its special needs students were among the lowest in the state.

GCA’s head of school, Matt Arkin, has maintained that the school has met special education targets established by the department. Those claims, however, are refuted by the report, which says the school “is in violation of critical federal special education laws and regulations.”

During an October review of GCA, department officials found “continuing and significant failures to comply with federal and state laws and regulations,” according to the report.

In an emailed response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, Arkin said: “GCA received a copy of the report this morning around the same time you did. We are currently reviewing and investigating the report, and we have a number of questions on some of the items in the reports upon an initial review.”

Some of those items, Arkin said, include questions about documentation of how the school is using federal special education funds.

Arkin said GCA staff will meet with the department next week “to discuss this report and develop a plan to collaborate with them to ensure that all of our students continue to receive all the services to which they are entitled and verify GCA’s compliance.”

Like other public schools, GCA cannot turn away special education students and must offer them instruction tailor-made to meet their needs. Schools are required to obtain the individualized education plans incoming special education students were taught from at their previous schools so those plans can be modified or adhered to.

GCA’s special education student population has increased to 1,100 from 600 two years ago, and department officials have said the school’s staffing has not kept pace with that growth. Arkin said the school has made some personnel changes in its special education department but continues to have a hard time getting other schools to send GCA the individualized education plans they used to instruct special education students enrolling at GCA.

The state Department of Education has given GCA a series of deadline dates by which the school must address specific concerns. The final deadline, Feb. 28, is a week before the state Board of Education holds a regularly scheduled meeting.

GCA’s charter was granted by the state, and the state board has the authority to revoke it. Some board members have expressed frustration with what they described as GCA’s ongoing problems and said they will pull the school’s charter if those problems are not resolved.