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The Bozeman School District is moving forward with an application to create an online charter school in an effort to respond to what it said is a growing need for a flexible learning option.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the charter school application during a special board meeting on Wednesday evening.

“We see this as a flexible, long-term solution to meet the needs of current students and students who are not yet enrolled in our district,” said interim co-superintendent Casey Bertram.

The Bozeman Online School has offered a 100% remote school option for kindergarten through eighth grades since August. The Bozeman Online Charter School would be an effort to continue offering an online option.

District administrators said every effort would be made to pull staffing from existing positions and keep the staffing budget for the school neutral. But they said there could be costs associated with staffing and instructional resources.

“It’s a really good opportunity to take the next step into personalized learning and I’m excited to see where it goes,” said Trustee Lusin.

During the application presentation, a few board members had concerns over the speed of the process. Trustee Wendy Tage said she heard from parents who are interested in the charter school but are “skittish because of problems they’ve had this year with being online” and are concerned the consistency might not be there.

“I would feel very comfortable where we would be when we start this off,” said Cale VanVelkinburgh, principal of the Bozeman Online School.

VanVelkinburgh said the charter school would be a combination of remote learning, in-person support and enhancement meetings, flexible scheduling, outdoor and community learning projects and competency-based learning.

He said the charter school would be focused on ensuring all students learn deeply while using “this amazing community around us” and having the flexibility to “slow down when we need to slow down for certain students.”

Trustee Tanya Reinhardt also asked if it would be possible to have an online school next year without going forward with the charter school process.

Bertram said the district had learned a lot form the Bozeman Online School and the variances the district is seeking are “efficiency-based” to keep the it “cost-neutral.”

“If the charter would be not approved, we would still need an online option for K-8,” he said. “We would not have the luxury of variances… and would have to figure out how to pay it.”

Trustee Douglas Fischer said it was important for the district to be responsive to a “new and changed education model” in a post-COVID-19 world.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to what we had before,” he said.

Last week, VanVelkinburgh presented the idea to the school board and held informational meetings.

Administrators also met with the Montana Office of Public Instruction, Montana School Boards Association, Montana Education Association and School Administrators of Montana.

The application will be due to the Montana OPI by March 1. Eventually, it will be forwarded to the Montana Board of Public Education for final approval.

Families have until Feb. 22 to complete an interest survey for enrolling in the online school for the next academic year. Registration for the K-8 online school will open from March 22 to April 2.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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