K12 officials asked state-certified teachers to sign class rosters that included students they hadn’t taught, according to documents that are part of the investigation.
The Florida Department of Education has launched an investigation of K12, the nation’s largest online educator, over allegations the company uses uncertified teachers and has asked employees to help cover up the practice.
In one case, a K12 manager instructed a certified teacher to sign a class roster of more than 100 students. She only recognized seven names on that list.
“I cannot sign off on students who are not my actual students,” K12 teacher Amy Capelle wrote to her supervisor. “It is not ethical to submit records to the district that are inaccurate.”
The documents suggest K12 may be using uncertified teachers in violation of state law. In 2009, K12 asked Seminole County Public Schools if it could use uncertified teachers in some online classes. Those uncertified teachers would be overseen by a so-called “teacher of record” — a certified teacher.
Seminole County Public Schools consulted with the Florida Department of Education and then denied the request, citing state law requiring certified teachers.
The Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General is now looking into whether K12 violated state law by using teachers of record, even after education officials warned the company it can’t.
State investigators confirmed the probe to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and StateImpact Florida, but declined to discuss it.
K12 officials would not agree to an interview. In a statement, spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said the company is working closely with investigators.
“We do not believe the allegations against K12 regarding teacher certification are accurate,” he wrote. “K12’s policy is to follow teacher certification requirements. K12 teachers assigned to teach students in Florida are state certified. Because K12 is continuing to work with state officials on this matter, further comment would be inappropriate.”
K12 operates in 43 Florida school districts, including in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval counties. The company teaches everything from art to algebra to students in kindergarten through high school.
In Miami-Dade, about 350 students are enrolled in K12’s virtual school as full-time students, according to John Schuster, spokesman for the district, which has nearly 350,000 students total.
According to K12’s website, students enjoy “state-certified teachers, with a parent or other responsible adult in the role of ‘Learning Coach.’ ”
The state investigation started in January, when a former K12 employee forwarded a series of emails to Seminole County Public Schools officials.
In one email, K12’s Florida project manager asked teachers to sign off on having taught students they may have never encountered.
“So if you see your name next to a student that might not be yours it’s because you were qualified to teach that subject, and we needed to put your name there,” K12’s Samantha Gilormini wrote on Feb. 15, 2011. Gilormini asked K12 teacher Capelle, whose emails helped spark the investigation, to sign off on a list of 112 students. Of the 112, she’d taught only seven.