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Out-of-field label for dozens of health teachers worries Pasco School Board

The district is working to get the educators certified in the subject.
Luis Herrera takes a swing at a low pitch during a softball game in 2017 at Chester Taylor Elementary in Zephyrhills. Pasco schools lately have added health lessons to physical education instruction, causing certification concerns for some teachers. ANDRES LEIVA | Times
Luis Herrera takes a swing at a low pitch during a softball game in 2017 at Chester Taylor Elementary in Zephyrhills. Pasco schools lately have added health lessons to physical education instruction, causing certification concerns for some teachers. ANDRES LEIVA | Times
Published Oct. 2, 2018

To meet state curriculum requirements, Pasco County schools expanded their health course offerings for the current school year.

The change could have meant several physical education teachers losing their jobs. Instead, the district offered to let them lead the health courses while pursuing certification in the subject, if they didn't already have it.

But now, the upshot is 53 Pasco teachers are classified as out of field for instructing health classes they had little choice but to accept. At some schools, as many as four teachers appear on the list, which went to the School Board on Tuesday for review.

That spike had School Board members concerned that some long-time teachers might end up jobless if they don't demonstrate subject area mastery within the year.

"All these people are certified in the jobs they were hired for — I should say the majority,"  observed board member Colleen Beaudoin, a college math instructor. "I do not want to lose these teachers."

United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace, himself a veteran physical education teacher, called the scenario a looming crisis. He urged the district to "do everything we can to allow them to continue teaching here in Pasco."

He suggested the administration can take several different steps to protect the educators, who were trained in one subject area and now find their jobs potentially threatened through no fault of their own.

Human resources director Christine Pejot said her office is working with all the affected teachers on certification exam preparations. She added that the district has a success rate of just under 100 percent in getting teachers off the out-of-field list, which often is long at the start of the academic year but shrinks dramatically over time.

Pejot further noted that teachers who make the effort to get the certification but somehow struggle can get an extension, and the superintendent can further provide a one-time waiver as they continue to work on it.

"This isn't one and out. I have a lot of discretion," superintendent Kurt Browning said in agreement.

Peace said the USEP has been in conversations with the administration about seeking other possible paths, such as gaining permission to allow the district to locally certify teachers as having mastered the subject standards without taking the test.

Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said getting that authority can prove tricky, but his office is looking into it.

"It's something we need to do," Peace said. "We're talking about 12, 15, 20-year teachers who probably have a P.E. certification. … It's the older P.E. people that are mostly affected."