12,000 students left scrambling after ECOT’s closure

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Aspen Peddicord is one of 12,000 students in Ohio without a school on Friday.

That’s because sponsors of The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow voted to shut down on Thursday night.

“You’d think that they would care about their students more and what was going to happen to them and everything, what the parents were gonna have to go through and their teachers. They’re going to have to be switching schools, too,” Peddicord said.

There has been trouble in the water for the online school.

ECOT has been involved in a legal battle with the Ohio Department of Education after the state agency ordered that ECOT repay over $60 million. That order came after ODE said ECOT improperly counted how long its students were being taught online and that its funding wasn’t justified.

ECOT warned that it would run out of money due to that order and said last year that it may have to shut down as a result.

Aspen’s mother, Amy, said an ECOT teacher emailed them last week, warning them about the impending closure.

“We got the notice last Thursday, and by last Friday, my son was not even able to log in,” she said.

Luckily, Peddicord — a 10th grader — is able to transfer into an online program offered through his local district. He starts next week.

“It just puts you in a lot of shock. It puts you under a lot of stress, ’cause you don’t want to miss any school. You want to get your schoolwork done, and this can put you weeks behind,” he said.

ECOT spent the past several months losing money amid its legal battle with the Ohio Department of Education.

ODE wanted the publicly-funded school to provide information on enrollment and fund management.

While there were warning signs, Amy Peddicord said she and other parents were kept in the dark as to the latest developments.

“I wish they would have kept us as parents updated every step of the way. If you knew this was coming, don’t surprise parents like this,” she said.

State Senator Joe Schiavoni spent the last few years advocating for transparency and tighter regulations for ECOT and other online schools. He calls ECOT’s abrupt closure wrong and unfair.

“It’s disgusting. Like, there’s nothing worse than making money off of kids when you’re supposed to be educating,” he said.

Schiavoni said the next and most important step is to get these 12,000 students back into schools immediately.

“Whether it’s public schools, whether it’s charter schools, whether it’s another electronic learning model, whatever it is, they gotta go to school tomorrow. They gotta go to school the next day, and every day that they don’t, they’re gonna be behind,” he said.

Schiavoni is looking to see if there is legal recourse for ECOT’s actions.

ECOT didn’t return WKBN’s calls for comment. The school did post information on its website about why it opposed the funding action of the Ohio Department of Education, but there was no information about Thursday’s closure.

The Ohio Department of Education says it is making resources available for families and educators affected by the suspension of ECOT.