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Los Angeles County education officials have launched a probe of fiscal and legal questions surrounding the enrollment of Catholic school students in the Lennox School District’s online academy, they said Wednesday.

The inquiry centers on the Lennox Virtual Academy, an online school operated by the Lennox School District, which has about 5,000 students and is located near Los Angeles International Airport, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The Times reported previously that the district had entered into unorthodox partnerships with at least four Catholic schools, offering them money and free laptops in exchange for enrolling their students in the district’s virtual academy.

The arrangement also was a boon to Lennox, a school district that had been losing students and state funding for more than a decade, the newspaper said.

Some have questioned whether the arrangements complied with California’s interpretation of the separation of church and state. Also at issue was whether the public school district could properly claim state money for students who were attending Catholic schools full time, and whose parents were paying Catholic school tuition

Los Angeles County Office of Education spokeswoman Margo Minecki said the office has begun an audit of the Lennox Virtual Academy in response to parents’ concerns and the Times’ previous reporting.

County officials are conducting the audit with the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, an agency often called on by school districts to help them fix serious financial problems.

“The audit will examine the fiscal and legal issues raised by the academy’s relationship with parochial schools,” Minecki said.

A request for comment left with Lennox School District spokesman Davon Dean was not immediately returned.

An investigation by the Times found that Lennox paid some Catholic schools a monthly fee of $165 per child and gave them free Chromebook laptops in return for enrolling their students in the district’s virtual academy.

At one of the Catholic schools still involved in the program, students are expected to use the online classes provided by Lennox for at least two hours a day, the Times said. At one school that took part last year, questions were raised about whether participation in the online school was more than perfunctory.

Three Catholic schools that partnered with Lennox last year have severed their relationships with the district, the Times reported. Officials with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees two of the schools, said they withdrew from the program after becoming increasingly concerned about the legality of enrolling Catholic school students in a public school program.

–City News Service

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