New Co-Located Schools Law gets an F

“May thanks to the Citrus Chronicle for first publishing this column on Sunday, May 1st, 2016.”

New Co-Located Schools Law gets an F

28574-3Accountability and grading of schools in Florida is not new, dating back to the late 1990’s.  What is are some of the new laws on how these grades are calculated.  In general, all schools funded by the State of Florida either receive a grade from an A to F, or a rating. Most elementary schools receive a grade based on student performance and improvement on tests in English Language Arts, mathematics, and science.  This grading formula becomes more complex at the middle school level where additional subjects are included, such as Civics.  Added to this calculation is students’ performance on high school level classes and career/technical/vocational tests that lead to Industry Certification.  The high school grades are the most complicated because it includes students’ outcomes and improvement on multiple subject areas, accelerated course test results (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment, Industry Certification, etc.), and graduation rate.

Alternative schools and schools for students with severe cognitive disabilities DO NOT receive a grade but rather a rating that uses a completely different set of criteria and formulas.  Improvement for these schools is defined with the following ratings; Commendable, Maintaining, and Unsatisfactory.  Citrus County School District has three school sites that fit this category; CREST School, Renaissance Center, and MYcroSchool (a charter school).  There are also unique situations where schools such as these may not receive any grade or rating due to ineligible students.

Now imagine you have two of these schools that operate out of one building. One school, the Renaissance Center, on one side of the building deals with students who could be expelled but instead are given the opportunity to continue their studies in this alternate setting in hopes of turning around their lives so that they may return to their original school. The other school, MYcroSchool, on the other side of the building takes students who are dropouts and helps them finish the courses they need in order to receive their diploma. Due to the nature of these two schools neither school receives a grade from the Florida Department of Education but would instead receive a rating.  Both of these schools occupy the same building at the Rodger Weaver Educational Complex in Lecanto and both are successfully fulfilling their intended purpose. However, thanks to new Florida law “Co-Located schools” [F.S. 1008.34 (3) (a) (3)], these two schools may be required to receive an F grade.

What is Florida’s “Co-Located schools” law?  This law refers to two schools that are located in the same building. This new Florida law states; “If a collocated school does not earn a school grade or school improvement rating for the performance of its students, the student performance data of all schools operating at the same facility must be aggregated to develop a school grade that will be assigned to all schools at that location.” Or more simply put, if two schools are located in the same building, each school will receive the lesser of the lowest grade possible for both schools; in this case, an “F”.  It appears the initial purpose of this law was to ensure that schools did not try to “hide” poorly performing students at traditional schools and thus avoid being graded as an “F” school.

Even though the Renaissance Center and the MYcroSchool are successfully performing their missions and helping students and due to their mission WOULD NOT have received a school grade, under this law these two schools could earn an “F” grade for no other reason that they are located in the same building.

If these two schools were not located side-by-side in the same building, they would NOT earn a combined rating that most likely would be an “F”. They would not need to receive any grade, they would receive a rating.

Why is this an issue? Because of this law and the resulting F grade, Citrus County schools will likely lose our status as a High-Performing School district by the Florida Department of Education.  In order to be a High-Performing district the law states the district may not have any “district-operated school that earns a grade of ‘F’”. For MYcroSchool the effect could be far more devastating as two years of an “F” grade would by law result in the charter school being automatically closed and unable to open another charter school in Florida.

Our district sought relief from the Florida Department of Education by noting that the law’s intended purpose was being misapplied to our situation. We also assumed that Citrus County Schools must not be the only district in the state that was facing this issue as it is common to co-locate schools and share common spaces because it can be a lower operational cost to do so. In fact Florida law [F.S. 1002.33 (18) (e)] requires that school districts offer any available space to charter schools. The State said that other districts resolved the situation by simply revising the address of one of the schools. At a recent State training for school districts, the State explained the process for modifying the address for this very purpose. So one would think this matter could be easily resolved. WRONG!

There is another Florida law that appears to contradict the remedy of simply changing a school address. It indicates that the schools must be separated, and that the opportunity for an official different parcel address does not match requirements outlined in the state’s Florida Inventory Of School Houses (FISH) User’s Manual. (Page 44 states, “A structure that has the same floors, ceiling, walls, and is not separated from another structure by an open air space is considered one building.”)

The Florida Department of Education and Commissioner Stewart has been diligently trying to work with our School District to find a legal remedy but at this time there seems to be very few options and their hands tied.

At our School Board Special meeting and workshop this past Tuesday, April 26th, 2016, there was consensus by the school board members that if there was not a commonsense legal solution offered, that our only common sense remedy was to modify the address as suggested by the State.

By modifying the address neither of the two schools would receive an F grade.  By modifying the address the School District does risk violating the FISH User’s Manual. It is a risk I am willing to take to ensure that common sense is applied in the operations of our local school district.  I also believe it shows that the Citrus School district is trying to adhere to the spirit of the co-located law.

For me, this is another example of the State’s overreaching in governing our local school district and using the Florida School Accountability system punitively against our schools, teachers, and most importantly, our students. Nothing in this situation is about true accountability. None of this is what is best for our students. What taxpayers should also be concerned with is that none of this is based in laws that were decided locally for Citrus County’s students.

Thomas Kennedy is a School Board Member for Citrus County School District. Read his blog at

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