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Changes sought for charter school law

TALLAHASSEE — Days after an Orange County charter school threatened to dismiss students for failing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, a state lawmaker has filed a legislative proposal that would ban the practice.

The school, Cornerstone Academy Charter School in Belle Isle, withdrew the threat after parents complained and reporters contacted the principal.

But state Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, says state law should have prevented it from happening in the first place.

"Charter schools should not be allowed to kick out students for failing the FCAT or whatever test they are being evaluated on," Jones said. "Traditional public schools can't do that. There is supposed to be an even playing field."

Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars, but have private governing boards. Like traditional public schools, they use the FCATs to measure student performance and receive school grades from the state Department of Education.

If Jones' proposal becomes law, a charter school that involuntarily transfers or dismisses a student would have to submit a report to the district school board.

The school would also be required to transfer a share of the student's state funding to his or her new school.

In some Florida counties, school board rules prohibit charter schools from involuntarily withdrawing students. Many charter schools agree to those terms in the contracts they sign with the local school board.

But state law isn't explicit.

Melissa Gross-Arnold, a Jacksonville attorney who represents charter schools across the state, said there is disagreement among lawyers on the topic.

Her take on the practice: "I think it's allowable under the law. Of course, (charter schools) are public schools, so anything they do would have to be done with notice. That's where a parent contract comes into play."

Some charter schools say students will lose "automatic re-enrollment" if they post low scores and fail to get tutoring.

In the case of Cornerstone, principal Renee Pancoast sent a warning letter to parents on Oct. 28.

"If your child does not attend (after-school test prep) and does not receive a passing score on the FCAT exam, their continued enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year may be in jeopardy," Pancoast wrote.

The principal later apologized, saying she had meant "to inform parents that failure to achieve state-mandated scores in specified grade levels could affect a student's matriculation to the next grade level."

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

Changes sought for charter school law 11/05/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 9:23pm]
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