Parents at Georgia’s largest public school worried as opening day looms

Combined ShapeCaption
A dispute between K12 Inc. and Georgia Cyber Academy has parents wondering if their kids will be affected when school starts Monday.

A private dispute between Georgia’s largest public school and the corporation that serves it has boiled over into public view, alarming parents who wonder whether their kids will be affected when school starts Monday.

The legal disagreement between K12 Inc., a national, publicly traded company, and Georgia Cyber Academy, an online charter school, has even caused the state to issue an ultimatum: K12 has until noon Friday to turn over any student records that might have been seized. The company says it is cooperating.

The school of 10,000 students operates under a state charter that it is at risk of losing due to routinely low test scores and other academic indicators. That is why the board has been making changes that are reducing K12's role in — and revenue from — the school, which got about $90 million in state and federal funds in the last year.

The disagreement has been going on for months, but each party has been largely silent due to contractual limits on what they could say about the other. That changed on Wednesday night, when a K12 executive posted a litany of allegations on the school’s Facebook page. Kevin Chavous, a K12 president, contended that money the school board is spending on other vendors’ curriculum (instead of using K12’s) was a waste of public dollars. He also wrote that the school board had tweaked enrollment policies “to remove students who are struggling, and most at-risk.” He invited parents to send their concerns about the school to a company email address.

Some who responded on Facebook to the Chavous post were concerned about the issues he raised, but many were also concerned about how the imbroglio would affect their children. With school starting in a few days, some reported that the company had locked down their computers, demanding that they be returned.

“K12 wants their computers back and they want them back now,” one of the respondents, Tiffany Evans, said in a subsequent telephone interview. She and her wife, Nikky, have two sons at the school. They got a call from a K12 representative this week demanding that the computers be returned.

“She said it needs to be returned immediately, like I was stupid,” Nikky Evans said. “The way she spoke to me it was like I was a thief.”

Not all students got their computers from K12, so not all would be affected. Angela Lassetter, the head of school, said in an interview Thursday that the board is taking steps to ensure that school will start as scheduled on Monday.

The company filed a complaint to the state in June about the school board’s behavior, but the oversight agency, the State Charter Schools Commission, found no problems, saying the board had authority over financial and curriculum decisions, according to recent correspondence obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution using the state open records act. The agency then sided with the academy board over a subsequent complaint that K12 had withheld some student records. This would make it impossible for the school to share some student transcripts.

In a stern letter Tuesday, a commission staffer wrote that the agency would take “all necessary and appropriate action” if the company failed to hand over the records by noon Friday.

The company told the AJC Thursday that it hadn’t withheld such records and would, in any case, comply.

The school’s board issued a statement Thursday complaining that K12 had taken “retaliatory” actions that included the lockdown of student computers, locking employees out of the email system, shutting down the school website, commandeering the Facebook page and posting a “bad-faith” column.