Nearly 400 Duval County students will be getting letters in the mail assigning them to new schools. The reassignments are happening two years after they should have been because of a district mistake.
In 2016, four Duval elementary schools — R.L. Brown, S.P Livingston, Hyde Grove and Oak Hill — were closed down and reopened as new schools. For example, Oak Hill became an autistic center and R.L. Brown became a gifted and talented academy.
The schools were closed partly because they’d been earning consecutive D and F grades. The state required the 2,250 students attending those closed-down schools to be reassigned to schools with a grade of C or higher. But a School Board presentation Tuesday showed “378 of the students were not reassigned to a school with a grade of C or higher.”
Duval interim Superintendent Patricia Willis, who has been leading the district since May 2017, said she’s been working with the Florida Department of Education on a corrective plan, which includes assigning the students to higher-performing schools — something that should have been done in 2016.
Although the students will have to be enrolled in new schools, under the state plan, parents and guardians can then re-enroll kids in the schools they were attending for the past two years or choose a different school entirely. That’s under the state’s open-enrollment policy available to all students.
The state reached out to Willis after finding inaccuracies in the list of reassigned students the district submitted in 2016. Nearly 200 student records were duplicated, and 900 were omitted. In addition, the district was supposed to track how the reassigned students fared after their schools shut down and submit their progress to the Department of Education.
“None of that had been reported to the state,” Willis said.
The reassigning was supposed to happen under the leadership of former Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.
“We were under the impression that he was following the rules and all of the children were reassigned appropriately,” said School Board Chair Paula Wright. “He assured us of that.”
In July of 2016, Vitti answered to the state Education Board about not planning to reassign all students to schools with at least C grades as the state was considering his plans for the low-performing schools. He said he was correcting the error and would send parents letters. At that time he also said many students were already choosing schools outside their assigned schools, like magnets, and he was supportive of that.
Willis said it’s not known if the students being reassigned now, were assigned to lower-performing schools in 2016 - or not officially reassigned at all.
Board member Ashley Smith Juarez was chair when the schools closed and reopened. She said the reason not all were reassigned is unclear because she too said Vitti told the board all students had been reassigned correctly.
She said some of the reassigning happened in August 2016 right before school started, but parents were allowed to arrive at the school they wanted their children to go to on the first day even if they weren’t enrolled.
“They were allowed to tell the principal they wanted their child enrolled in that school,” she said. “I’ve asked several questions about what the documentation for that was. I asked it two years ago. What’s unclear is the documentation that went along with that.”
Florida DOE Regional Executive Director Wayne Green said he’ll be presenting Duval’s corrective plan to the state board next week.
“They may have some questions, but I’m confident the corrective action steps you’re taking will satisfy the state board,” he told school board members on Tuesday.
Aside from the reassignment confusion, Green’s presentation addressed how all 2,000 or so elementary students affected by the school closures are performing two years later. Nearly 40 percent are not reading on grade level, and 35 percent aren’t proficient in math, he said. In addition, 35 percent have missed more school days than the district average of 10.
Smith Juarez said she’s concerned about reassigning the students who are performing well, saying it could be disruptive if they’re excelling.
“To me it doesn’t make sense to then take what is procedural in terms of student reassignment two years after it was required by rule and apply it in a way that could be detrimental to students,” she said.
However, Green said the students have to be reassigned according to the law.
“Having done what the law requires, we wouldn’t be here taking corrective steps,” he said.
Willis said all the students will get an individual monitoring and support plan, and they’ll be placed in classes with teachers who are rated “effective” or “highly effective.”
She said the district is still deciding how and when it will notify parents and principals. District staff said they’re planning to follow up with parents, letting them know after students are reassigned that parents can still change their child’s school.
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.