State Rep. Lori Berman

Bill would let Florida parents decide if children should repeat a grade

Headlines

Current law leaves the decision up to school officials.

Tampa Bay Times | by Jeffrey S. Solochek | December 10, 2020

As the first semester of classes nears its end, worries are mounting that many Florida students have struggled to keep up with their work.

Online courses and quarantines represent just a few of the many factors causing some children to fall behind. It’s become such a concern that state officials have instructed schools to provide “intensive interventions” for any child identified as lagging in their lessons.

Suggesting that some students might need extra time to learn what they need to know, state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, has proposed giving parents the authority to decide whether their child can repeat a grade next year.

Right now, state law leaves that decision up to school officials.

“We talk all the time in Tallahassee about how parents should have choices,” Berman said. “This is just following through on that.”

Her bill (SB 200) echoes a view that Gov. Ron DeSantis espoused in the spring, when he first announced that schools would close because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Parents may, at their discretion, choose to keep their child in the same grade for the 20-21 school year” if worried about learning lost during remote classes, DeSantis said in a televised speech at the time.

However, he never formalized that directive with an executive or emergency order, leaving many parents who wished to take advantage of the approach in the lurch. In several counties, including Pasco and Manatee, families requested to retain their youngsters, only to have their principals reject the plea, saying their records didn’t justify such a move.

Department of Education guidance that came out after DeSantis’ televised statement backed a more nuanced approach, stating “promotion decisions should be made in consultation with parents, teachers and school leaders based on the students’ classroom performance and progress monitoring data.”

Berman said parents deserve clear and decisive directions from the Legislature that address their worries about their children’s academic progress.

“I just felt like we should make it a policy of the state,” she said.

Should the bill pass, parents would have until June 1 to file a formal retention request to their district superintendent, who would have no discretion in granting any submission received by the deadline. The superintendent would have more leeway in deciding what to do regarding documents that arrive after the deadline.

Students held back under the proposal would have to sit for a midyear assessment to determine if they’ve made adequate progress.

The bill also would allow parents to request promotion of their children based on accelerated performance.

Berman said the measure does not address such issues as athletic eligibility that made the DeSantis proposition dicey for districts. She suggested such items could be sorted out as the bill moves through session.

The governor’s office and education department have not taken a stance on the legislation, which does not yet have a House companion. Berman said she limited the scope of her legislation to make it potentially amenable to the Republican majority.

She had not yet spoken to Senate education chairman Joe Gruters about getting the measure on the radar for a hearing. Committees begin meeting Jan. 11.

Photo: State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, has proposed legislation that would allow parents to decide whether their children will repeat a grade next fall. Concerns over learning losses during the coronavirus pandemic are behind her bill. [ AILEEN PERILLA | AP ]