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Sarasota Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2021 8 months ago

School leaders consider end of the year tests, events

Administrators are considering options for state testing, graduation and prom.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

At the end of the year, seniors have a lot to consider: what to do after college, what outfit to wear for prom or graduation and how best to study for the final tests in their high school careers. 

As students ponder the end of their high school tenure, Sarasota County Schools has to establish guidelines to facilitate most of those headlining events. This year is no different, even though there’s a growing list of unanswered questions due to COVID-19. 

Among the items for the school board to consider are whether traditional graduation ceremonies and proms will be held and what the district’s health and safety policies will look like in the 2021-22 academic year. 

Bigger question marks, however, are left up to the state. That includes whether officials will use state testing to determine student grade promotion, school grades and teacher bonuses.

Last year, at-home learning led state officials to cancel state testing. However, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran this year issued an emergency order that states testing will go on in an expanded timeframe from early April to mid-June.  

Although students will be asked to take the tests, legislators are still considering whether the results will be used to determine typical school benchmarks. 

Ron LaFace, the Sarasota school district’s lobbyist, said he hopes the state will adopt a “hold harmless” approach, which means the test would be administered but any action related to the outcome would be put on hold. 

After a year of concurrent learning, district testing data show a hint of a “COVID-19 slide,” meaning more students are struggling than in years previous. That trend is reflected across the state. 

Board member Bridget Ziegler said she hasn’t heard a single educator say concurrent learning was effective. She would like the district to return to traditional brick-and-mortar learning for the 2021-22 academic year. 

Amid concurrent learning, leaders are still unclear on how best to administer end-of-year tests to remote learners who would need to be on campus to take the tests. They are considering Saturday testing or testing in the evening for those students. 

Although Chair Shirley Brown said state consequences are important to consider, the legislature will ultimately make that decision. Brown said the board needs to focus on giving families more clarity on staple end-of-the-year events. 

“There’s a lot of people out there that do want to know, and we know it’s hard to make hard and fast rules because we don’t know how many people are going to be vaccinated by the end of May,” Brown said. “ … I think we ought to decide sooner rather than later.” 

Superintendent Brennan Asplen said district leaders are discussing with other districts the best way to handle end-of-the-year events. Many other decided to hold all their events outdoors, Sarasota officials learned. Asplen said the district has already reached out to several outdoor venues about the potential of hosting graduation events. 

Directives to high school principals regarding prom include: no dancing, masks must be worn at all times and only seniors from each individual school may attend. 

Last year, many celebrations were canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. Instead, digital tributes were held for the 2020 graduating class. 

Although the board can give guidance, the decision on whether to host graduation will likely be left up to district and school administrators in the coming weeks. 

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