Are Virtual Schools “Real” Schools?

| March 10, 2011

I’m from Georgia and I still have a look at the local news from time to time. This particular story caught my eye this morning:

Georgia Supreme Court: Online courses can qualify as “attending school”

A case came up in which a man’s eligibility to continue receiving child support from his biological father past age 18 depended on his staying in school. The man, who had turned 18, was enrolled in online courses but for some period of time had discontinued attending a bricks-and-mortar school. The case made it all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, which disagreed with lower courts and ruled that at least some recognized providers of virtual classes could count towards the status of “attending school,” for legal purposes.

This ruling could have further policy implications. If online schools count as “real” schools, then they should be treated like “real” schools for tax and regulatory purposes, for instance, and should qualify to receive vouchers where voucher-based school choice programs exist.

The ruling also raises philosophical questions: does the very concept of a “school” entail that it is a building, or a place? What’s the difference between a place or medium for education, and an actual school? And, if virtual schools are “real” schools, then for consistency must we say that a virtual library is a “real” library? What do you think?