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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What lawsuit are Florida school district lawyers reading to deal with opt out?

Many of Florida's testing opt-out parents have referred to a 1920s-era Supreme Court guideline known as Meyers-Pierce to bolster their position that they have the final say on how their children are educated.

As the Court stated:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

School district attorneys across Florida lately have been trying to come to grips with this argument, as parents push to remove their children from testing. Lately, they've been passing around 2005 U.S. appeals court decision Fields v. Palmdale School District.

While it doesn't speak directly to testing, and it has not been adopted in the Florida district, the lawyers still find it compelling. It states, in part:

Perhaps the Sixth Circuit said it best when it explained, "While parents may have a fundamental right to decide whether to send their child to a public school, they do not have a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child. Whether it is the school curriculum, the hours of the school day, school discipline, the timing and content of examinations, the individuals hired to teach at the school, the extracurricular activities offered at the school or, as here, a dress code, these issues of public education are generally ‘committed to the control of state and local authorities.' " (citations omitted) ... We endorse and adopt the Sixth Circuit's view.

These issues are gaining importance as parents have begun challenging state and district rules regarding third-grade promotion based on proof of reading mastery. Some districts including Hernando have insisted that children have a test score to be promoted.

Others, meanwhile, continue to refine their practices to try to meet state mandates but also student needs. Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning described his expectations to principals on Friday. He wrote:

I ... want to make it clear that I have no desire to retain third graders who clearly demonstrate that they have mastered state standards. Retaining students has questionable long-term benefits for the retained student.

Pasco County has interpreted Florida law and State Board Rule to allow schools to compile portfolios for students who do not score a 2 or above on the English language arts FSA. I expect schools to allow for portfolios consisting of standards-aligned independent work samples and a variety of student performance data to show evidence that those students have demonstrated mastery of the standards assessed on the FSA.

If teachers have evidence that a student who has refused to take the third grade ELA FSA should be promoted based on IRLA evidence documented through SchoolPace and other independent performance samples, then the student should not be required to take an alternate assessment or attend reading camp. However, if a student who has refused to take the third grade ELA FSA has not demonstrated mastery of the standards assessed on the FSA based on IRLA documentation and other independent performance samples, we should invite him or her to attend third grade summer reading camp. He/she also would be eligible to take the SAT-10 and continue building a portfolio during summer reading camp. If such a student still does not show mastery after completing reading camp, then that student should be retained in third grade.

At least one parent has complained this process was not followed. District officials are looking into that complaint.

[Last modified: Monday, June 6, 2016 2:16pm]


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