As DCPS scrambles to review media centers, charter schools remain exempt

Board member: Public schools ‘under a microscope,’ while charter school face ‘less micromanagement’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County school administrators, media specialists and librarians are “erring on the side of caution” as they work to comply with a new state law restricting certain topics in school libraries and classroom book collections.

As that district-wide effort continues amid the ongoing school year, some current and former Duval County Public Schools leaders say while the 39 charter schools within Duval County are subject to the long-standing laws against exposing children to harmful materials, they are effectively exempt from the required media review process and the litany of provisions therein.

“This is just an example of something that our board is having to deal with but the charter schools are not having to deal with,” Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey said. “Anytime we have language and legislation that holds a specific school, like our traditional schools, more accountable than other schools receiving the same state dollars, that you are beginning to see a clear separation between traditional schools and charter schools and legislation.”

The separation comes in how the legislation is written, imposing rules, restrictions and requirements specifically on “school boards,” which do not have a hand in governing charter schools. Local school boards have the authority to grant or reject a school’s charter, though those actions can also be taken directly from the Florida Department of Education, cutting out the school board’s influence entirely.

Hershey said supports charter schools as institutions that provide some families an alternative to their neighborhood school but said the difference in how they’re held accountable is problematic.

“Again, you’re using taxpayer dollars and you would think that there would be a more level playing field when it comes specifically to accountability for schools,” Hershey said. “I think that’s the biggest dividing factor, it seems that some of the traditional schools are certainly being looked at through a microscope and held accountable, and there is less micromanagement or oversight or intense scrutiny of charter schools.”

Former Duval County School Board member Elizabeth Andersen was front and center as state laws and FDOE policies fell on public schools but avoided charter schools, including the controversial ‘Parental Rights in Education’ law, which critics nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” policy.

“So by and large charter schools are getting the same public tax funding that the traditional public schools are getting, they just aren’t held to the same requirements or standards,” Andersen said.

News4JAX reached out to the Florida Department of Education for a comment but did not receive one in time for publication.

Florida law that governs charter schools says the following:

“A charter school shall operate in accordance with its charter and shall be exempt from all statutes in chapters 1000-1013. However, a charter school shall be in compliance with the following statutes in chapters 1000-1013:

  1. Those statutes specifically applying to charter schools, including this section.
  2. Those statutes pertaining to the student assessment program and school grading system.
  3. Those statutes pertaining to the provision of services to students with disabilities.
  4. Those statutes pertaining to civil rights, including s. 1000.05, relating to discrimination.
  5. Those statutes pertaining to student health, safety, and welfare.

Some argue that the new library media law “pertains to student health, safety, and welfare” and should therefore apply to charter schools as well, but no clear guidance has yet been provided by the state.

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Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.