In the state of Wisconsin, parents are allowed a great many options on how to educate their children from kindergarten through 12th grade. We have public schools. In Milwaukee — thanks to the voucher program — we have private schools. In many districts, parents can also choose charter schools or virtual schools, or even to home-school their children themselves.

Last week the 2nd District Wisconsin Court of Appeals effectively eliminated one of those choices for parents in the state.

At issue in the case is the Wisconsin Virtual Academy — an online "virtual school" run by the Northern Ozaukee School District. Much in the same way that online courses are done here at the University of Wisconsin, in a virtual school, certified public school teachers provide instruction in regular subjects over the Internet to students who work from their homes. The students still complete their assignments on time and must meet the same standards as if they were in a traditional "brick and mortar" classroom, but the lectures and classroom hours can be completed on a more flexible schedule.

Most parents whose children are enrolled in virtual schools believe it is an excellent tool forchildren who may be behind their peers or for the children who excel beyond their standard age group. The test scores of the students in the WIVA are at or above the state averages and suggest that this new type of school is working well for these students.

So if the virtual school was working so well, why would anyone sue to have it shut down?

According to the court's ruling, and the original complaint filed by the state teachers union — WEAC — at least one of the problems is the amount of parental involvement. WEAC alleged, and the court of appeals agreed, that state law requires primary instruction in a public school must be done by a certified teacher. Fair enough, but in the case of WIVA the students were getting instruction from certified teachers, the assignments were coming from certified teachers and the grades were being given by certified teachers. What then, is the problem?

Well, it seems that because the parents are so involved with the learning process — the classroom is at home after all — the children are in effect receiving their primary instruction from the parents. This raises several questions: What about a parent who is heavily involved in his or her child's education at a traditional school? What about the parent who helps his or her children with homework they are struggling with? At what point does the parent become so much like a teacher that the state has to shut the school down?

Unfortunately, there is no definition of what constitutes parents acting like teachers. The court does not even approach the subject in any serious way, other than stating WIVA is in violation of state law. Because this never happened, the court could not provide any way for the school to comply with the law. Rather than shutting down WIVA, the court should have provided ways for the school to remedy the problems it has so that it can continue serving as many families as possible.

It may very well be that the applicable state laws, such as the definition of primary instruction and where a school is located, need to be clarified. No matter what the final outcome of this case is — I am fairly certain that the state Supreme Court will be taking this case head-on — the state Legislature must make the rules and regulations governing charter schools and virtual schools more clear.

Ultimately, this case is extremely important for the future of public education in Wisconsin. If we continue to allow so many options for parents and their children, how do we define those schools, and how do we ensure that they are educating the children effectively?

Personally, I believe that greater choice and greater parental involvement are good things. But what those choices are and how they are administered must be clearly defined so that we do not end up with 700 students who are without a school.

We can all agree that every kid deserves a great school. When we start the debate over how to resolve the issues of this case, let's keep that in mind.

Mike Hahn ([email protected]) is senior majoring in history and political science.