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Johnson v. Burmaster – Case Brief Summary (Wisconsin)

In Johnson v. Burmaster, 2008 WI App 4, 307 Wis. 2d 213, 744 N.W.2d 900, 902 (Wis. Ct. App. 2007), a virtual charter school was established in Northern Ozaukee, Wisconsin. Children from across the state registered, but were taught in their homes by means of internet and postal mail. Id.

The virtual school was financed via "open-enrollment transfer payments" from the students' residential districts to the defendant, Northern Ozaukee's school district. Id.

The plaintiffs, individual citizens and an education council, filed a complaint against the Northern Ozaukee school district, alleging that operating the virtual school was a violation of Wisconsin's statute. Id. at 903. Both parties filed their respective motions for summary judgment. Id. at 903-04. The trial court granted the defendant's motion, and the plaintiffs appealed. Id. at 904.

On appeal, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals examined "whether a non-resident pupil enrolled in the virtual school triggered the open-enrollment statute's provisions, including a shift in funding from the resident school district to the Northern Ozaukee school district." Id. at 906.

To determine this issue, the Court researched the statute, which allowed a student to "'attend a public school . . . in a non-resident school district." Id.

The parties disputed the meaning of "attend," arguing whether it constituted "physical" or "non-physical" presence. Id.

The Court determined that although the students "attended" the virtual school, they engaged in online learning and resources from their homes. See id.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment, and ordered the trial court to declare that the defendants violated the education statute and to "enjoin the education department from making pupil transfer payments based upon non-resident students enrolled in the virtual school." Id. at 909.