Virtual charter president resigns; appeal in doubt

CARPENTERSVILLE – The Virtual Learning Solutions president has resigned nearly three months after the nonprofit unveiled plans to create a virtual charter school that drew the ire of 18 Fox Valley school districts.

Sharnell Jackson said she voluntarily resigned last week from her post as president of Virtual Learning Solutions for personal reasons. The nonprofit formed in February to advance a controversial, online-only charter school in the Fox Valley that spanned 18 districts, including Carpentersville-based District 300.

Jackson wouldn’t elaborate on the reasons for her resignation, which happened around the time Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law that prohibits the creation of virtual charter schools in Illinois until next April.

“I still believe in virtual schooling and support it, but I no longer am a part of Virtual Learning Solutions,” Jackson said. “I resigned for personal reasons.”

She did not know when the remaining board members of Virtual Learning Solutions would decide on her replacement as president.

Jackson’s resignation comes after all 18 districts rejected Virtual Learning’s charter proposal. The nonprofit unveiled its plan to the districts during a flurry of public hearings in early March.

School administrators complained that Virtual Learning came unprepared for the presentations and lacked specifics on the online-only school’s curriculum and costs to operate it.

In one instance, Virtual Learning representatives did not even attend to present their plan in a public hearing with administrators from Geneva School District 304. The nonprofit later said it was unaware the meeting had been scheduled.

To answer critics, Virtual Learning released a 1,100-page document designed to address district concerns, days before districts took final votes on the charter proposal. School administrators argued the overture was made too late.

Virtual Learning consequently appealed all of the 18 district rejections to the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which recently detailed the timeline for hearing the appeal.

But the appeal was thrown into limbo when Quinn signed the one-year virtual charter moratorium May 24. The commission since has suspended its evaluation of the appeal.

The one-year probation allows the charter commission time to research and recommend policy to the Illinois Legislature regarding virtual schooling, including the effect it has on student performance and issues with oversight.

With Virtual Learning’s appeal in doubt, the commission will meet June 11 to decide whether to dismiss, postpone or move forward with the appeal, said Jeanne Nowaczewski, the commission’s executive director.

Attorneys from the 18 districts have argued the appeal should be dismissed entirely, while Virtual Learning’s lawyers have argued the appeal should continue even with the new moratorium.

The commission also could decide to wait until the moratorium is lifted to hear the appeal, Nowaczewski said.

In the meantime, the commission is accepting voluntary legal briefs from the 18 districts, detailing their own interpretations of the new law’s effect on the appeal.

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