FL school district reverses historic opt-out vote

FORT MYERS, Florida (News-Press) -- The Lee County school board has reversed its historic decision to opt-out the district from all state-mandated tests, a decision that was met with outrage by many in attendance.

The board met Tuesday morning to discuss repealing last week's decision to opt out of all state-mandated tests, which was an unprecedented move in the state. The motion was originally passed by board members Mary Fischer, Chairman Tom Scott and Don Armstrong, but Fischer called for a rescission meeting after further thought.

"I have decided to rescind my vote for a variety of reasons," Fischer told the audience. "The vote from Aug. 27 for immediate opt out of all state-mandated, standardized testing has multiple consequences, which are not in the best interest of our students… the kids have been my life's work, which is why I am calling for reconsideration."

Fischer said she changed her mind after learning more about the potential consequences and insisted she was not "bullied" by anyone. The rescission passed 3-2 with board members Jeanne Dozier and Cathleen Morgan in favor of reversing the opt-out decision.

Armstrong said he plans to propose a more specific motion next week.

"I will make it detailed, and I will make it stick," he told the audience.

Chairman Tom Scott, who voted in favor of opting out last week, stood by his views.

"It was never, ever my intent to make a statement and just let the chips fall and walk away," he said via phone call. He called on Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida school boards to unify against the state tests.

"I stand by my vote last Wednesday," he said. "If the vote goes a different way, that will never change how I view this. We needed to take the first step, and it's time to get on with it."

Morgan criticized Armstrong and Scott for celebrating their "victory" last week and commended Fischer for "having the courage" to change her mind.

"Board members, we have some soul searching today. We opened Pandora's box," she said.

The board will meet again on Sept. 9.

Sixty people – the maximum number of people allowed by school board policy – registered to give public comment at the meeting, which was standing-room only. All school board members, including Chairman Tom Scott via phone, are in attendance.

Comments have been heated and passionate on both sides of the issue.

Tess Brennan, a mother and opt-out supporter who addressed the crowd last week, urged the board to stand by its initial decision.

"We tried lobbying," she said. "Yet what did they do besides add more tests to our children's classrooms? You told us how harmful these tests are for our children. Put your vote where your mouths are."

School board elect Pam LaRiviere, on the other hand, said she was in favor of the rescission so that the scope of the motion could be clarified.

"I have nothing against the intent," LaRiviere said. "The problem I have is that the motion was too broad. The motion was made to opt-out of state mandated testing, which covers much more than just the high-stakes piece that we are talking about."

Opt-out supporters proposed #TerminateNancyGraham and #RecallMaryFischer hashtags throughout the public comment section of the meeting.

"8:30 in the morning, I'm looking at a room full of red," said parent Lisa Cohen. "They will not be deterred. First, stand strong for the children. The counties across Florida and the country are looking to you."

Chris Quackenbush, the leader of Stop Common Core FL, called for the state to implement better accountability programs, and for the Lee board to stand by its decision.

"We don't need redundant, high-stakes testing. We've agreed on that for years," she said. "This has been an issue for years. This is not a knee-jerk reaction," she told the board.

The sweeping decision, which Armstrong called an act of "civil disobedience," has generated much praise and backlash nationwide.


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