With the state requiring the Duval County School district to reassign nearly 400 students before the fall, district officials provided an update on their efforts this week.
The reassignments were supposed to happen two years ago but didn’t. As a corrective measure, the state is requiring them now.
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The reassignments are impacting students who went to R.L. Brown, S.P. Livingston, Hyde Grove and Oak Hill elementaries before the schools were technically closed and reopened with new programs two years ago. For example, Oak Hill became an autistic center.
Nearly 400 of the 2,250 students attending those schools weren’t reassigned to schools with grade of C or higher, but state law required them to be. Part of the reason they were closed was because they were low-performing. It isn’t clear if the students were reassigned to low-performing schools, or not reassigned at all.
District staff members say they’ve hosted a couple parent meetings and are in the process of calling all parents they haven’t made contact with. By the beginning of July, if some parents or caregivers still haven’t been reached, social workers will go to their doors.
They say talking with parents is important. Although the students will have to be enrolled in new schools, 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 outgoing Superintendent Patricia 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 in a May interview.
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.
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 in a May interview. “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.”
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.