Two years ago Duval County Schools violated the law when it enrolled hundreds of students from four previously failing schools in other schools, including some rated D or F.
State officials now say they want the district to take corrective action by re-assigning 378 of those students out of their current schools to a third school for next year. The new schools must be rated C or better, Superintendent Patricia Willis said Tuesday.
That means parents of the affected students will receive letters this week or next enrolling their children in a new school, regardless of how well those students are doing in their current schools. Parents also will have meetings and will be given the option to opt out of the transfer or pick another school, Willis said. Those in magnet schools won’t be affected.
The announcement comes as the state concludes its investigation into Duval for not complying with state rules regarding enrollment at failing schools.
“There were decisions made which were probably not in the best interests of students,” said Wayne Green, a regional executive director for the Florida Department of Education, adding the district has been cooperative.
In recent years, state laws changed to give students of certain low-scoring schools new options to escape them. Districts forced to close some failing schools were required to find adequate schools to send the displaced students.
In Duval’s case four schools were “closed” and revamped into specialty schools. R.L. Brown became a school for gifted children; Hyde Park and S.P. Livingston became schools specializing in certain grade levels, and Oak Hill became a school specializing in autism.
More than 2,000 students were sent to different schools. The state says Duval didn’t follow the rules for that transfer process.
Former superintendent Nikolai Vitti at the time interpreted the state law to mean the students could transfer to any public school with a higher letter grade. Mostly he allowed parents to pick schools, even schools with lower ratings, or students were sent to the next closest school.
State officials disagreed with that method, saying the students can only transfer to C-rated schools or better.
Their disagreement led to an emergency meeting of the school board last August and a last-minute scramble to send new school reassignment letters to parents a week before the school year started. That added to the usual first-day confusion for many parents and students, board members said.
Now, with Duval required to send out yet another round of reassignment letters to hundreds of the same students, school board member Ashley Smith Jaurez fears even more confusion and frustration. She said Tuesday she wishes the state would grant a waiver, so affected students can choose to stay at their current schools if they’re doing well.
“There are some students who are proving successful in schools where they are assigned,” she said. “Is there any allowance for students who are demonstrating success where they are, to remain at their school? We know that those disruptions are detrimental.”
According to state data, 39 percent of the affected students still are not proficient in reading and 35 percent are not proficient in math, a year after their old schools closed and they were transferred to current schools, Willis said.
Smith Juarez pointed out that 61 percent are proficient in reading and 65 percent are proficient in math. Also about 60 percent of the affected students have teachers who were rated effective in reading or math.
The rest, about 40 percent of students, have less than effective teachers and, under state law, will have to be reassigned to higher-rated teachers next year, Willis said.
There were other challenges last year for many of the affected students; 35 percent were absent more than the district average of 10 days, Willis said, and 27 percent had higher than average disciplinary referrals.
Also the district failed to send regular monitoring reports tracking these students’ progress. As a result, Duval is adding another year of monitoring, Willis said.
The state will do “random checks” with Duval schools and teachers to make sure it follows state law, Green said.