Education in Virtual Environments

Aaron Saiger, Education in Virtual Environments, in The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Education Law. Kristine Bowman ed., Oxford University Press, 2020 Forthcoming

Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3581845

29 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2020

See all articles by Aaron J. Saiger

Aaron J. Saiger

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: April 21, 2020


The bricks-and-mortar schools contemplated by American education law and regulation are discrete, bureaucratic institutions, where children interact in person with one another, and with adults who supervise them, inside fixed physical borders at fixed times. Their governance is likewise defined geographically. Virtual schooling, by contrast, is untethered from geography, is ubiquitously asynchronous, and involves the interaction of machine representations of people rather than of people themselves. Virtuality privileges the consumer over the bureaucrat, encourages the disaggregation and recombination of educational components on a bespoke basis, and brings different economies of scale and competitive features to the educational marketplace.

The education law we have—the law of the traditional, embodied school—fits virtual technology poorly in critical respects. Virtuality demands fundamentally new legal approaches to areas as diverse as curriculum, attendance, student health and safety, privacy, parental responsibility, disability, student rights, discipline, governance, and equity. Responding to these demands provides occasion to see the law afresh, to reassess and redirect, to align principle and practice more closely, and ultimately to transform educational regulation in the service of equity and learning. This is an opportunity of a kind that has not presented itself since the beginning of the Progressive Era.

Note to readers: This chapter, from the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of U.S. Education Law (Kristine Bowman ed., Oxford UP 2020), considers in a condensed way many of the issues discussed at greater length in Schoolhouse in the Cloud, a book-length manuscript in progress, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. The chapter was finalized within a few weeks of the wholesale, abrupt, nationwide transition of American schools from in-person to remote teaching and learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. It makes some reference to these events, but eschews systematic analysis of the early pandemic, focusing instead on likely developments in the medium term.

Keywords: Online education; Online schools; Virtual schools; Ed tech; Education and technology; Cybercharter; Cyber charter schools; Educational privacy; Students with disabilities; Student expression; educational equity; school choice

Suggested Citation

Saiger, Aaron J., Education in Virtual Environments (April 21, 2020). Aaron Saiger, Education in Virtual Environments, in The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Education Law. Kristine Bowman ed., Oxford University Press, 2020 Forthcoming, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3581845, Available at SSRN:

Aaron J. Saiger (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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