Serious concerns have been raised alleging that at-risk high school students in Manatee County were removed from their classes and classified as home school to inflate the district’s graduation rates. Two issues deserve scrutiny involving the school district and interim superintendent’s conduct.
First, whether the district violated the students’ right to an opportunity to obtain a high-quality education under the Florida constitution and statutes by withdrawing those students from their courses and transferring them to home school without parental notice or consent. Further, for students with disabilities, whether the district violated those students’ due process rights under federal and state laws.
At last week’s board meeting, board member Scott Hopes reportedly claimed the district can’t investigate further because of the new home school statute, which merely limits inquiries to parents that have the effect of making home school registration more difficult. It’s disingenuous to claim that an internal investigation can’t be conducted when some parents weren’t even aware their child had been withdrawn and had no intention of homeschooling them.
Second, the interim superintendent’s claim that she was just following procedures from the previous district she worked at is unpersuasive. As then-deputy superintendent and now-interim superintendent, Cynthia Saunders likely had a fiduciary to disclose actions that impacted the district’s obligation to “fully and faithfully comply with state laws, standards, and rules.” Saunders had the resources and expertise available to consult and determine the proper procedures for transferring students.
I don’t know all of the facts and circumstances of what transpired but what has been revealed by public reporting is disturbing. Students only get one shot at high school and the district owes these students a meaningful investigation. If improper conduct is found to have occurred, the district should make amends promptly and issue a public apology to the students impacted by these actions.
Jeff N. Eckert