With Ohio's largest online school facing closure as soon as Friday, students and parents of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow say they are being kept in the dark about the future of the school.

"I wish they would tell us what's going on," said Stephanie Frint, an ECOT graduate whose 16-year-old daughter now attends the school.

Frint, of Commercial Point, said she and her daughter have received no information about the school's status since last week when school superintendent Brittny Pierson posted a memo saying ECOT could suspend operations "at the end of the day" Thursday, the end of the first semester.

"It's frustrating," Frint said.

Whether ECOT closes after classes Thursday or remains open until the end of the school year could be decided at a special board meeting late Thursday afternoon of the charter school's sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West.

On Wednesday, ECOT appealed the sponsor's planned termination and proposed remedies to keep the school open.

Lake Erie West officials have said they intends to suspend sponsorship of ECOT, in large part because the school says it will be broke by the end of March and was in an "unsustainable financial position." A charter school must have a sponsor to operate under state law.

Following an emergency board meeting Wednesday, ECOT announced it made a "final offer" to the Ohio Department of Education it says would allow the school to remain open through graduation this spring.

"This plan is in the best interest of our over 12,000 students across the state," ECOT's Pierson said in a statement.

"While we would have liked to remain open indefinitely, it’s clear the department will not accept a payback plan that would allow for that. Thus, we are left fighting to remain open until the end of the year to allow our students the opportunity to finish their school year with us before either graduating or finding a new school in the fall."

Under the proposal, ECOT founder Bill Lager would step down from Altier Learning, his affiliated management company which operates the school, and suspend all payments to the company.

The plan, ECOT says, also would allow the state to continue recouping $80 million in overpayments of state aid.

School officials did not return calls seeking comment and it was unclear whether monthly payments of $2.5 million would be the same, or if the school would still run out of money next month.

Department of Education officials also could not be reached Wednesday night for comment.

"If this is really about the kids, they will not close the school in the middle of the school year," said Anna Aquino, of Canal Winchester whose two daughters attend ECOT.

"Figure it out until the end of the school year and fight it out in the summer."

Frint agreed. She said both she and her daughter have disabilities and struggled in traditional public schools before attending ECOT. Frint praised its teachers and counselors, crediting them with helping her graduate high school and deciding to pursue a college degree.

"I really don't know what we'll do if it closes."

Apryl Morin, executive director of Lake Erie West, said in a statement Wednesday: "ECOT currently has the opportunity to submit proposed remedies to the reasons cited in the notice of intended suspension. The ESC will give full consideration to any such submission before determining whether to issue a suspension, and its decision can be expected at or near the end of ECOT’s current semester."

Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Holbrook has scheduled a hearing for Friday on Lake Erie West's request to appoint a receiver to take control of the troubled online school’s operations and finances.

In court filings, Lake Erie West said there are “no remedies” to avoid suspending ECOT's  operations.

"Considering ECOT’s significant enrollment, extensive records, numerous contractual relationships, and substantial property, the ESC recognizes that ECOT would face significant challenges completing the mandated closure procedures in the event of suspension or contract termination. The appointment of a receiver for ECOT would offer assistance in carrying out the procedures and help protect the interests of the enrolled students, their families, and other stakeholders," Morin said.

ECOT's troubles stem from a variety of financial difficulties following a state order to repay about $80 million for claiming thousands of students who did not meet minimum participation requirements.

Under a two-year repayment plan, the Department of Education in July began withholding $2.5 million per month from state payments to ECOT. Since then, the school has cut staff and other expenses, but in a remedial plan submitted to Lake Erie West, said it would be out of money in March. Morin has said in court filings it would be better for the school to close at the end of the semester rather than in the middle.

State law, Morin noted, allows a sponsor to suspend operations of a community school and terminate its contract if the school fails to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal managements, or violates terms of the contract or state or federal laws.

ccandisky@dispatch.com

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