BROOKSVILLE — When parents accepted a spot for their child in two of Hernando County's magnet schools, the deal always came with a stipulation: Parents must agree to serve nine hours over the course of the year.
If they did not meet the mandate, their child could be booted out of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics and Chocachatti Elementary, which has fine arts and microsociety programs.
At a workshop last month, Hernando School Board members expressed concern that the policy penalizes students for the inaction of their parents.
Faced with pleas from teachers, parents and administrators from Chocachatti and Challenger, the board on Tuesday reversed course.
At their regular meeting, as they approved revisions to the magnet admission procedures, board members agreed to retain the mandate but to drop the penalty of booting out the children of parents who don't comply. That part will come back to the board for a vote.
"The kids will not be punished because of the lack of effort on their parent or guardian's part," said member Sandra Nicholson, who initially supported doing away with the mandate.
Nicholson suggested parents who have not met the requirements by the last nine weeks of the school year be required to meet with administrators to work out some sort of arrangement.
"I was very pleased that the board and all the folks rationally worked out a compromise that will be keeping the spirit of what the magnet programs tried to do with parent involvement, but provides a step where staff can actually meet with parent if it's not happening and draft some kind of a plan," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.
Challenger principal Sue Stoops was also pleased. Stoops and Chocachatti principal Maria Rybka had recently asked the board to reconsider their decision. The policy, the principals said, helps boost parent involvement and contributes to the schools' success.
The schools always work with parents who have a hard time meeting the requirement, Rybka and Stoops both said. At Challenger, only about four to seven students have been forced to transfer each year — and those are children of parents who didn't contact the school until they received the letter notifying them that their child could not stay, Stoops said.
"We try to be as accommodating as possible, and we think we have been," Stoops said.
How passionate are teachers about the issue? Last month, a kindergarten teacher at Challenger sent an e-mail to parents — apparently from her school district account — that included a section urging them to vote for Cynthia Moore, the opponent of four-term incumbent Nicholson.
At the workshop just days prior, Nicholson and fellow board members John Sweeney and Dianne Bonfield reached a consensus to eliminate the service requirement. Bonfield and Sweeney won re-election in August. On Tuesday, Nicholson apparently lost a runoff by 41 votes, though the ballots will be recounted on Monday before the results are finalized.
In the Oct. 12 e-mail reminding parents about upcoming activities such as a Halloween party and a field trip to a local farm, Jayneen Mann urged her colleagues to exercise their democratic rights.
"Our own board members do not support what it takes to make Challenger the fantastic school it is," Mann wrote. "Vote for Cynthia Moore. … Nicholson, Bonfield, and Sweeney are trying to vote out our mandatory volunteer hours."
"We do not push politics or anything political at our school and I personally do not," Mann's e-mail continued. "(H)owever, Challenger seems to get attacked a lot for its strong representation of being a good school."
District policy forbids the use of e-mail for political purposes. Mann faces disciplinary action, but the case remains under investigation, Blavatt said on Friday.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.