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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Republicans create solutions where there weren't any problems: go after trans children and teacher's unions.

 In this session, the Republicans in the Florida Legislature have found one solution after another for problems that don't exist. Still, in doing so, they have caused problems, hardships, and grief. Last week they went after Trans children, and this week they are going after teacher's unions.

Last week the Florida House passed HB 1475, dubbed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, and it passed 77-40, with all but one Democrat voting against it. This is a solution without a problem, as the Orlando Sentinel reported only a handful of trans children have played high school sports in Florida. Furthermore, when asked the bill's sponsor, Kaylee Tuck couldn't point to where this was a problem in Florida.

So what's the Florida Legislatures's solution? It is to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls' sports and to inspect children's genitalia should there be any doubt. Let me say that again. The Florida legislature has passed a bill that calls for the inspection of children's genitalia. Whether they play sports or not, our most vulnerable children have heard loud and clear that they are not worthy.

Then this week, a little closer to home Cord Byrd's anti-teacher union bill comes up for a vote. The bill would end automatic deductions for teacher's unions but not for police, fire, and prison guard unions. Florida is already a right-to-work state, and teachers have to request the withdraws, but that's not good enough for Byrd and his ilk and Tallahassee. This bill is nothing but yet another attack against the teaching profession, and as Byrd runs for state Senate in 2022, I hope people remember this.

In the last presidential election, Trump won 51 percent of the vote and Biden 48 percent (rounded), yet despite that, we have 65-35, Republican-Democratic representation in Tallahassee. When Republicans have such an overwhelming advantage due to gerrymandering, we don't get bills that move the state forward; we get bills that address imagined grievances and made-up problems to gin up the base. We get bills that hurt people and solutions for nonexistent problems.

DCPS's @#&$ teachers attitude continues daily

This is my 21st year in the district and the worst it has ever been for teachers. This administration and board give zero #@%&s about the staff, and it's time we all admitted it.

I am not going to rehash staff's shoddy treatment during the pandemic, but that is a huge factor. I think it just revealed how little they care about staff, but that sadly is just the tip of the iceberg.

Senate Bill 1014 comes up for a vote this week, and the district's silence is complicity. This bill would end automatic paycheck withdraws for the union. Proposed by local rep Qanon Byrd, it exempts police, fire, and prison unions who all have automatic payroll deductions too, you know, for reasons. If Greene or the board were to speak up, this bill might lose some of its steam but don't hold your breath.

Then many veteran teachers are going to get a pay cut this year. The district played a little lip service to this at a meeting in January and said they would address this. Fast forward to today, and the district flush with cash, probably in a better position than it has ever been in and nothing. Not a peep. I was told by the district 2 years ago when I first came out against the referendum because it didn't address staff salaries that when the referendum passed, they would be in a better position to address that. Well, friends, it passed six months ago and nothing. @&$3 em. 

More walkthroughs, learning arcs, increased testing, a tone-deaf mental health campaign, and the inability to address race, including sidelining a popular teacher at Lee High school for standing up to racists, and the hits keep coming.

Poor leadership and poor policies will lead to poor outcomes. I have been writing about education in the district since 2007, and this is worse than it has ever been. Heck, they make me miss the halcyon days of Vitti and Burney.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Southern Poverty Law Center says DCPS is on the wrong side of what is right

 The Southern Poverty Law Center is a premier social justice organization that has fought against white supremacists, anti-semites, Islamaphobes, and all manner of malcontents on the wrong side of decency. Well, friends, you can now add Duval County Public Schools to that list. 

They have even represented Florida's public schools in their fight for fair funding, a lawsuit I testified in. It is manifestly disappointing that DCPS is on the opposite side of them. Disappointing but sadly not unexpected.  

From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the private employment law firm Scott • Wagner and Associates filed suit in federal court today on behalf of a Florida high school teacher who was removed from her classroom and reassigned to administrative duties in retaliation for displaying a Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag over the objection of school administrators.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, claims that officials at Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) violated her First Amendment rights and other constitutional and statutory protections because of her advocacy on behalf of Black students.

Amy Donofrio is a white teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, a school where about 70% of students are Black.

“I hope this case will set a needed precedent,” Donofrio said. “Teachers should not be punished for supporting their students’ humanity. Our students matter, and as educators, we will no longer tolerate them being systemically damaged, silenced, and failed. To our Black students, we see you, we stand with you, and you matter.”

Late last year, Donofrio hung the BLM flag on her classroom door to communicate a safe and supportive space for Black students following several high-profile killings of unarmed Black people by police and racist vigilantes. Many students confided in her that seeing the emblem brought them comfort – especially in a school named after the commander of the Confederate army, an avowed racist and former owner of enslaved people, and because they had experienced racism in their own lives.  

The 13-year veteran teacher has also been outspoken about racist comments made by alumni during recent public meetings held to discuss renaming the school. Donofrio raised concerns about the emotional harm inflicted on students by the hate speech. She also complained to school board members about administrators requiring Black custodial staff to remain in the cafeteria, away from the meetings.

Afterward, the school ordered her to take down the BLM flag. When she refused, noting that she had violated no policy, the administration forcibly removed the flag, placed her on administrative leave and reassigned her to non-teaching duties, pending an investigation into “allegations of potential misconduct” that the district has not defined.

Assigned to work in a warehouse, she has not been allowed to teach or enter the school since March 25. 

“Educators who value and respect their students should be supported by their schools and communities not punished for it,” said Evian White De Leon, senior staff attorney for the SPLC. “The school district was wrong to remove Ms. Donofrio from the classroom after she displayed a Black Lives Matter flag on her classroom door to support her students. We are suing the district to get her back in the school where she belongs without further harassment by school administrators.”

Following the district’s discipline, Donofrio’s students started a petition demanding the school return their teacher to the classroom. “At my school we have this AMAZING teacher Ms. Amy Donofrio who has done nothing but support and push any child she came across for the best,” wrote the petition’s author, Jayla Caldwell, 17. “She has always advocated for racial equality.” 

This was not the first time Donofrio spoke up in support of her Black students.

When she started teaching a life skills course in 2016, she found that the majority of her Black male students had experienced trauma and racism. In response, she and her students designed a curriculum to help meet their social, emotional and academic needs. Because so many of the students had been wrongfully profiled by the police as gang members, they created T-shirts and hoodies that say: “I am not a gang member.” It was the beginning of the EVAC movement, a nonprofit social justice organization aimed at shifting false and racist stereotypes about Black boys. 

EVAC, initially a class offered for school credit, garnered national attention. In 2017, members traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in a U.S. Department of Justice roundtable about juveniles and the justice system – and then met President Barack Obama when he visited Jacksonville.

The program was removed from the school’s curriculum the following year.

https://www.splcenter.org/news/2021/04/16/black-lives-matter-teacher-disciplined-displaying-blm-flag-sues-florida-school-district

The district had to know just summarily suspending her was going to have consequences, as they should have know slandering her would.

Then please don't come at me about district policies, as the district asks its employees to get political when the process suits them.

This could have been handled so much better, but to paraphrase Hamilton, we have a district that is indecisive from crisis to crisis. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Florida GOP bullies its most vulnerable children

 The Florida House came up with a solution without a problem, which includes girls' genitals being inspected by a stranger. The GOP just said to children, want to play a sport? Then be ready to show your privates.

The Florida GOP, a gerrymandered bunch, isn't about solving problems or making things better; it's about exercising its power to gin up its base. The state is so gerrymandered to assure them victory that they don't need to, which just makes their latest effort to punch trans children, for checks notes, being trans children is based on sure meanness.  

From First Coast News,

 Florida lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday that would ban transgender girls from participating in women's sports.

HB 1475 passed the House by a 77-40 vote.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, is dubbed the “Fairness In Women’s Sports Act.” It would make participation in athletics contingent on determining a student’s “biological sex.” If a student-athlete were to be challenged, confirmation would have to be sought from a health care provider that they are female, which could include a doctor examining their genitals.


State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who similarly introduced SB 2012 in the Senate, would allow transgender girls to participate in girls' sports but would need to reach the same testosterone standard of the Olympics.

Neither she nor Tuck could cite an instance when interviewed by the Miami Herald where a transgender athlete unfairly impacted scholastic athletic competition in Florida.


https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/regional/florida/florida-house-lawmakers-passes-bill-banning-transgender-girls-from-school-sports/67-e5b716be-5a92-4395-b498-842ffa34c80a


Um, couldn't site an instance? This is such a problem; they couldn't find where it was happening. Sofa king lame.


Representative Latvala tweeted when the NCAA threatened to remove championships from states who participate in this bullying, said who gave them the moral authority to complain?




Way to go, Florida GOP; you somehow made the NCAA look good by comparison. Latvala is making a joke about people's lives. $@#&ing despicable.  


The GOP needs somebody for its base to hate. Trans kids are last week refugees and immigrants, Muslims, union members, or teachers. They are this weeks gay and queer and black and brown. If the GOP didn't push hate and fear on its base, they wouldn't have one. This solution, without a problem, attacks our most vulnerable children. It is just another example of how despicable they have become, and sadly since our state is so gerrymandered, it probably won't be the last. Elections have consequences, and in Florida, that means some children are discriminated against, and others, well, they will have to show their genitals to strangers if they want to play sports. 




Monday, April 12, 2021

Gary Chartrand spreads misinformation about charter schools, again.

 Gary Chartrand really supports charter schools; that is undeniable; however, the same can’t be said for public schools, which he has for decades sought to undermine. His tenure on the state board of education, a position he as a grocer was completely unqualified for saw, high stakes testing go up, and teacher salaries go down as well as the creation of one unfunded mandate after another that, for the most part, charter schools are exempt from. 

Gary Chartrand has his truth; unfortunately, his truth is filled with caveats that he leaves out. Let’s look at his claim about the IDEA charter schools, which are coming to Jacksonville paid for with Jacksonville tax dollars. 

He claimed that 100 percent of their graduates have been accepted to college. I am reminded of the old adage if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and this definitely seems too good to be true. I could not find anything to independently verify that statement. Still, I was able to find plenty of how they routinely counsel out poor performers, and only sixty-five percent of their ninth-graders made it to graduation. Then it gets worse.

This is from the IDEA student handbook: As required by the IPS charter, a student may graduate and receive a diploma only if the student successfully completes the curriculum requirements identified by the SBOE, has been accepted into a four-year college or university, has completed a minimum of 125 hours of community service, and has performed satisfactorily on required end of course assessment instrument.

They are required to be accepted, not attend or do well, but just be accepted. To give you some scale, if DCPS required all its seniors just to apply to Florida State College at Jacksonville, they too could say they have a 100 percent college acceptance because they are required to accept any high school graduate.  

     

You would think if the assertion of a 100 percent graduation rate was true, it would be a big headline. It has not been, but IDEA leasing a private plane and professional sports tickets for their executives have been. These scandals have become all too commonplace with charters as well

Yes, it is true charter schools do have the same "testing" accountability measures that public schools have. Still, it is equally true that charters can pick who they take and keep, and many councils out poor performers and don’t take ESOL and special needs students, to begin with. Imagine how well public schools would be doing if they had the same advantages, but then again, they wouldn’t be public schools, would they? Charters may be publicly funded, but after that, the similarities are far and few between. 

Though I will admit the concept of charter schools is an appealing one. Parent-teacher laboratories of experimentation and innovation where success would be then shared with and replicated in traditional public schools. The reality, however, is a nightmare, one partly created by Gary Chartrand where for-profit companies see children as price points as they cash their checks and friends believe me business is good and just look at the KIPP school that Chartrand founded. 

They have recently asked for a 23-million-dollar bond financed by Duval’s taxpayers for a new campus. They got a million-dollar PPE loan, even though the state covered them this year. Even Jacksonville’s own city Hall regularly sends them hundreds of thousands extra, throw in millions extra from the state over the year, too, and it is a pretty lucrative enterprise. Chartrand has turned tens of thousands in donations to Lenny Curry and Jason Fischer into millions for his school. 

Let me explain how another charter chain that operates a half dozen schools in Jacksonville works. Charter Schools USA. They have a nonprofit, renaissance, secure the charter, red Apple Construction, builds it, and Charter schools USA runs it. All operated by the same man, multi-millionaire Jon Hage. He made the news a while back, too, for attempting to sell one of his yachts named, Fishing for schools.   

Chartrand claims that it is undue regulation that has stymied the ultra-generous schools of hopes bill that, despite being four years old, has had few takers, is disingenuous at best. The truth is most of those schools don’t want to come here, and IDEA didn’t until the referendum became a reality. They saw all that free taxpayer money became available. The reason is they would have to set up in areas of town that are mired in poverty where dozens of charters have gone to die and speaking of charters dying, over 350 have opened taken public money and closed, leaving families and communities in a lurch, including one of Chartrand’s KIPP schools.   

If Chartrand really cared about public education, I would suggest he tried to help them improve and reach their potential rather than continuously bash and try and replace them.  

Do Chartres have a place? Yes. Do some Charters do it right? Absolutely. Then do public schools have problems? Without a doubt. Chartrand and his ilk aren't interested in solving; what they want is a replacement for public schools, not a partner, a replacement that will make more than a few of them rich. We have serious but solvable problems in education. Charters as Florida does them is not one of them.   


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Now that the testing EO has come out, the big question is what will DCPS do?

 If the past is prologue, the answer to that question is the opposite of what is right. They will still use the tests to bludgeon teachers and save money. Who wants to make a bet what they will do?

First, some random thoughts.

Executive orders from the state diminish the power of localities. They make Corcoran a de facto king of education. That wouldn't be a good thing even if we had a reasoned educator in charge instead of the jackbooted noneducator thug we currently have. 

We should all oppose high-stakes testing as it is currently done. Is there a need for an assessment? Sure, but what we have is punitive accountability on steroids that isn't meant to help. It's meant to harm. Greene and presumably the board's full-throated embrace of them is beyond troubling. 

Despite months of telegraphing waivers for the tests were coming, the district spent weeks cajoling families to return and watched up the stress level of students and staff alike, and for what? It's my thought Greene can taste that A grade and is willing to walk over the bodies of teachers and students to get it. Anybody paying attention could have told you this day was coming, but that didn't slow Greene's roll in the least.

Now that the executive order is here, the high stakes features for students and schools are waived, but the ones for teachers are not, sort of, kind of, it's a bit unclear. 

From WFLA.com

 The order also:

  • Allows local school districts to decide if and how they’ll use VAM data for student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

So, where districts are basically required to not use the tests for promotion graduation etc., they still have the option of using them to evaluate teachers, which makes less sense than normal. Kids all over the set are sighing in relief and rightfully so, great for them, but this also means the tests will become less of a priority which will, in turn, affect test scores more than they already would have. Let's not forget there is a pandemic raging, though Greene and the Board seemingly have.  

This means the big question is, what will DCPS do? Though if the past is prologue, we already know.

DCPS should immediately announce they will not use VAM scores to evaluate teachers. Taking that off their plates and doing the right thing. 



To read the executive order, click the link: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/19861/urlt/2021-EO-02.pdf

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Another failure in leadership

 The renaming of our schools is another failure of district leadership. 

For ten months, the process to change six of our schools named after confederate era figures has been going on. TEN MONTHS.  

Last June, after the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the nation had a reawakening of interests in civil rights, and protests erupted all over the nation, not just because of the deaths but because of generational and systematic racism too. Duval Couty Public schools decided to join in, just in their own slow, disorganized, and painfully awkward way. 

I spoke at the first meeting where the name changes were proposed by Board Member Warren Jones. The gist of my speech was we couldn’t have schools named after people who never did anything questionable because we could never find anyone, but we could have schools that weren’t named after slavers, racists, and traitors. That and sometimes we revere historical figures despite their flaws, see our founding fathers, but confederates were revered because of their flaws.  

This was the beginning of June, and I was optimistic that those schools would open in the fall with new names, but that has been far from the case. 

After months of little or no action, it became obvious that the district did not want to do anything until after the vote on the half-cent sales tax. I believe it is because the district didn’t want to risk offending or alienating anyone in what they expected to be a close vote. We can debate that matter, whether it is okay to send African American kids to schools named after people who thought they were subhuman in order to protect the referendum or not. Still, the thing is the referendum passed in November, 5 months ago. 

If the name changing wasn’t to be done by the end of the summer, then surely by the end of 2020. Sadly again, the district showed no real urgency to fixing this manifest wrong, and as we got farther away from the summer, the moment that America was having was losing steam.      

So a few more months pass, and Public meetings start up in earnest, something that could have just as easily happened last summer or fall, and the racists come out of the woodwork, saying things like if Robert. E. Lee high school wasn’t mostly black they wouldn’t be having these problems, and Jesus was pro-slavery. Maybe I should be thankful it only took ten months for the Jesus was pro-slavery people to come out, but I am not. I am angry, angry at this ridiculously wrong and long process. We had more meetings for this than we did the referendum and angry for our children attending the schools, 4 of which are majority-minority and at the repeated failure of leadership at the district level. 

Had the district wanted to, they could have voted on that hot summer day last June to change the schools' name, but they didn’t. Here we are ten months later, with black and brown children going to schools named after slavers and traitors, not to perversely honor those heinous men, but as a message to African Americans that they have better keep in their place.  

The school referendum was a great idea, but the district not fighting to get the issue on the 2019 ballot is ultimately going to cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars. Changing the schools' name is a great and long-overdue idea, but it should have been completed within months, not within a year. These are just two examples of recently failed leadership from the district though I could name several others, and I, for one, think we deserve better. 

As the name-changing controversy drags on for the next two months, just remember it didn’t have to be this way.   

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Parents opt your students out of Florida's high stakes tests

 I am finishing my 21st year teaching in Duval County Public schools. I have seen a lot, but without a doubt, the worst and what must go is the state's reliance on high-stakes testing, This is especially relevant as DCPS starts testing season. I call it a season because it will last for weeks. Students at private schools that accept vouchers paid for by the public already don't have to take these pernicious tests, and it's time public schools joined them. 

Testing and preparing for the tests take away weeks of instruction. They don't provide any value either because the results aren't made known for months until after the school year has ended, and they rob teachers of the ability to be flexible, reteach or do deep dives into subjects. On the other hand, these tests affect everything from teachers losing their jobs to housing values and to a city's ability to attract businesses. 

This is not to say we shouldn't have standards or accountability; we should, though, for some reason, the state spends billions on voucher schools without either. However, we must do so in a way that doesn't steal instructional time, assists instruction, and doesn't hurt housing values. 

Parents may also not know it, but they have the option of opting their children out. Only a handful of tests are for promotion, and most of those have workarounds. Now the district has been known to threaten families with placement into special programs or schools they choose if their children skip the tests, but that too is a problem we should address. For a century, grades were the barometer for success, not how a student did on a high-stakes test. Teachers have long known how hurtful these tests are, but the state never listens to educators, but they may listen to parents, and if enough parents opt their children out; this will send a loud message to the state. You can find out more about opting out at  https://theoptoutfloridanetwork.wordpress.com/ . Please consider it, the state, the school system and your children would be better off if you did.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Why does Greene struggle with race relations? (draft)

Why does our African American superintendent struggle so mightily with race relations? Well, the answer is simple, she doesn't see children as black, brown, or white, she sees them as test scores and she probably thinks everyone else should as well. 

On the heels of the districts disastrous mental health rollout, which sought to co-op black history month and led to several school walkouts, the district doubled down by allowing racists to spread their hate at meetings about changing the names of schools named after confederate era figures and then allowed a teacher to be targeted by them. Rather than stand up for the teacher, they inexplicably later suspended her. 

This change the name of schools named after slavers and traitors has just about reached the ten-month mark, which has done nobody any good. I believe it wasn't done last summer because the district didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the referendum. 

They reasoned it was okay with letting black and brown children continue to attend schools named after people who thought they were sub-human if ignoring it brought in extra revenue. But JC, the referendum vote was in November, 4 months ago; this should have been over before the end of last year. Yet it drags on and on, and still, there is no end in sight. 

When the district learned of the changes to CDC cutting the social distancing guidelines in half, their reaction was yay, it will be easier to test, and this was on the heels of cajoling families to come in to take practice tests. In my 20 years in the district, I have never seen an administration so obsessed. It's not a surprise that the district so singularly focused on testing doesn't know how to handle race problems.  

This should be easy. It is 2021; we shouldn't have schools named after slavers and traitors. 

This should be easy; it's a pandemic; there are many things we can stress about, testing should not be one of them.

These things should be easy, but they aren't because our district has things backward; to them, testing is important, and righting the wrongs of history isn't.  

DCPS has a total failure of leadership

 I have had many issues with district leaders over the years, but I never could have imagined one would be the distrct siding with a racist who said Jesus supported slavery over a teacher who fought for social justice.

From the Times Union,

Donofrio would live-stream the public comments at the school's community meetings. 

It showed mostly older white adults making questionable comments and shaking their heads as students spoke in support of the name change. In one segment, a white man was captured flipping the camera off during the meeting. 

Some of the footage went viral, including a portion from Joey Stevens — an alumnus who said Jesus supported slavery. 

As first reported by News4Jax, Stevens took to Facebook Monday night, attacking Donofrio with screenshots of Donofrio's classroom and her Black Lives Matter flag from her social media accounts and imploring his followers to contact Lee High School administrators about her. 

"This is the kind of teachers we have, pushing their political agenda on students," Stevens wrote on Facebook. "If this offends you, speak up." 

https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/education/2021/03/25/evac-movement-teacher-removed-jacksonvilles-lee-high-after-refusing-remove-black-lives-matters-flag/6999517002/

Um, but having a school named after a slaver and a racist doesn't offend you?

This process has been an utter failure of leadership by the superintendent and school board.

I spoke last June at a school board meeting, basically saying the standard for naming a school can't be somebody never did anything wrong, but it could be they aren't named after, slavers, racists, and traitors. How it is ten months later, and we are still fighting over this is an absolute failure of leadership.

Absolute versus utter, sigh.

The board could have made the decision on its own, or if they wanted to involve the community, they could have had several meetings last summer and cleaned it all up, but no, they decided to muddy the waters by adding Jackson High school and both Ribault schools to the conversation and to turn what should be a simple decision into a year-long ordeal.

 So fast forward to the last few weeks when the racists on parade have been willing to make their positions quite clear, and the district, instead of putting an end to the charade, doubles down on its ineptitude by suspending one of the most visual teachers for changing the names of the schools named after confederate era figures. 

Instead of sticking up for Ms. Donofrio against the parade of racists, it suspends her.

I have often written that when the district finds itself in a hole, its first instinct is to keep digging, and this isn't just more of the same, it's worse because it didn't have to be this way.