State investigates Duval County students continuing to attend failing schools

Superintendent says district complied with law, rules on transfers

By Ashley Mitchem

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Education officials are investigating whether Duval County Public Schools complied with state laws to reassign students from schools that received multiple failing grades.

Under Florida law, students attending schools with multiple Ds and Fs and are scheduled to be closed or transformed have the right to transfer to better-performing schools.

An email from Florida's education commissioner notified Superintendent Nikolai Vitti that the state looking into whether Duval County complied with the requirement to assign children schools rated C or better.

Vitti told News4Jax the school district has nothing to worry about.

'We're not concerned," Vitti said. "I think we went above and beyond what the state had required us to do."

The state said it is looking into the cases of R.L. Brown and S.P. Livingston, two elementary schools that persistently had Ds or Fs on state report cards. It is unclear if the investigation will focus only on these schools or will include others.

This year, under Duval's turnaround plan, Brown became a magnet school serving gifted and talented students, while Livingston is now a primary school handling only preschool through second grade. The state is concerned about how many current students attended those same schools last year, before the turnaround.

Vitti said the district has the documentation to prove it complied with state law and rules. Vitti said the department is concerned that many students continue to attend their old schools after being reassigned to higher-rated schools.

"Parents have had the option of leaving the school for years. (They) often don't because it's a school near ... their home. They can walk to the school. They have a good relationship with the principal or the group of teachers, so sometimes we do realize that parents make decisions beyond just a school grade," Vitti said.

The state is requesting documentation of parents requesting to stay at the schools.

Parents of students at R.L. Brown told News4Jax they are happy with the school.

"They are happy to show me their homework and progress reports and projects that I help them with," said Kenyatta, who has three children at the school. "It's OK. I don't have a problem with the school. Haven't heard anything bad about the school. My child is doing good. Why would I take them out of the school?"

"Other than talented and gifted program for my son, I just thought that would be good for him," parent Jennifer Whetsel said.

It is unclear if the investigation will focus only on these schools or will include others.

Under state law, if the education department finds probable cause of noncompliance, the state could compel compliance or, if that is not possible or a district is unwilling, it could report the situation to the state Legislature, withhold some state funds or declare the district ineligible for state grants.

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