Pasco mom fights extra reading hour at her son's elementary school
Tyler Woodland has never had a problem with reading.
His test scores at Pasco's Richey Elementary School showed him consistently at or above grade level, with his comprehension accuracy regularly above 90 percent. The fifth grader earned a 3 on his Florida Standards Assessment in language arts last year.
His school, however, didn't perform as well overall. It landed among the state's lowest 300 on reading, and as a result had to add an hour of daily reading instruction.
That state mandate has Tyler's mom, Cathy DiBona, up in arms.
"I go and pick him up every single day" when the extra hour begins, she said. "He's not going to spend one second in that after-school reading. It's a huge inconvenience on my family. But I am just doing what I believe is right."
DiBona said she makes the daily drive, despite its interruption of her work schedule, because the school won't let him take the bus home with children in kindergarten through third grade, who do not have to attend the added instruction. District officials have made clear that they will not violate state law, which allows children in the "L-300" schools to opt out only if they earned a 5 on the FSA.
But they're not thrilled with the rule, either, and have asked lawmakers through the district's legislative platform to extend the exemption to children who passed the FSA at any level. That way, officials have reasoned, they could use the program money to reach younger children who need reading help before they ever take the test.
DiBona isn't alone in her concerns. Another mom, Krista Moore, wants to remove her son Nicholas from the added hour, as well. She said Nicholas earned a passing mark on the FSA, and having to extend his school day "is a punishment for the kids and the parents."
Moore said Nicholas doesn't get home until after 5 p.m., while his younger brother arrives home just after 4 p.m. That has meant rearranged schedules for the family, as they shuttle kids back and forth from school, sports and other activities while also trying to fit in meals and any homework, "all because the school got a D rating."
After talking with district lobbyist Spencer Pylant and School Board member Steve Luikart, DiBona said she understood that the state rule isn't changing.
"I was looking for a loophole," she said. "I realize nothing is going to happen."
So she plans to keep trekking to school for an early pickup, and also to do something she's never done before -- ask state lawmakers to fix the rule.
"This is all new to me," DiBona said. "I've never fought for anything. Everything has been okay."
She could face an uphill battle, though.
State Sen. David Simmons, the primary proponent of the extra hour, said he does not support any erosion of the extra hour provision.
"These are the worst performing schools," Simmons said. "Is it going to hurt you to be in there, working your butt off to become a Level 5? I can't believe someone wants to pull them out during this time period and not make them even better."
Legislative committees begin meeting later this fall.