ESPN learned that last week when they appeared to be duped into airing a high school football matchup between Florida’s IMG Academy and Ohio’s Bishop Sycamore.
IMG Academy won 58-0. The fall out was swift and fierce. Bishop Sycamore’s coach was fired, and reports of civil lawsuits abounded.
The school found opponents cancelling upcoming contests in light of questions about the school’s players. And the name became the basis for hundreds of much-laughed-at internet memes.
But the confusion hasn’t yet been completely cleared up.
Bishop Sycamore was described last year as an “online-only charter school.” This made its way into many stories about the ESPN affair and prompted opponents of school choice to hurl another round of accusations against eSchools.
Here’s the thing – like so much else about this situation, it’s a smokescreen.
Bishop Sycamore isn’t an eSchool in the traditional sense of the word. They receive no tax dollars. They’re not chartered. They have no traditional public-school sponsor.
The Ohio Department of Education refers to Bishop Sycamore, appropriately, as a “non-chartered, non-tax supported school.”
Bishop Sycamore is a private, religious, online charter school; it’s not accredited by the state.
Ohio’s public full-time online schools like Ohio Virtual Academy and Ohio Connections Academy do receive taxpayer funds. They are fully accredited, tuition-free options for Ohio students who want to attend a public school online. They’re measured by state report card standards and are accountable to the Ohio Department of Education.
Public full-time online schools don’t just meet baseline requirements, either. They go above and beyond. Both Ohio Virtual Academy and Ohio Connections Academy have been designated by the Ohio Department of Education with Purple Star Awards, indicating that “show a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military.”
Additionally, the learning mode of public full-time online schools is unique – it allows students the flexibility to learn at home and receive the same education as a student in a traditional brick and mortar public school. This model also allows parents the ability to be more involved in their children’s education, serving as learning coaches to make sure that they’re getting their work done.
The availability of this option has been incredibly important as the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on.
For students who are medically fragile or have immunocompromised family members, transitioning to a public full-time online school was a no-brainer.
We have nearly two decades of experience in this space, providing high quality online education long before the pandemic began. The importance of having an excellent online option continues today, as we all work to get a handle on how to protect our children from this pandemic.
We are sure that there are good, solid private online schools in Ohio. Bishop Sycamore will have to answer as to whether it is one itself.
But if the saga over its ESPN football game appearance taught us anything it’s that details matter.
Bishop Sycamore is not like Ohio’s excellent full-time public online schools. Its reality, an investigation by the state, is not our reality. Our reality is that tens of thousands of families across Ohio have found that this model is what works best for them. We have the graduates to prove it!
The result is clear. Like Bishop Sycamore, it’s the opportunists seeking to score political points against Ohio’s public eSchools who are getting shut out.
Cynthia Williams is a board member of the National Coalition for Public School Options, a paraprofessional with special education students online, and the proud parent of two Ohio Virtual Academy graduates.