The Pasco County School Board has voted to support a hearing officer’s recommendation, in the wake of a complaint lodged against the district’s selection of a textbook.
Jessica Jucusco-Wright, a former district educator, was one of the petitioners who filed an objection regarding instructional material entitled Foundations in Personal Finance, published by the Lamp Group, doing business as Ramsey Solutions.
Objections to the textbook adoption were the subject of a public hearing held on Oct. 10, conducted via Microsoft Teams, by hearing officer James A. Robinson.
Robinson’s Oct. 16 order determined that “petitioners did not demonstrate that the instructional material in question fails to meet one or more criteria for objection” as set forth under state law.
Jucusco-Wright raised objections again at the Pasco School Board’s Nov. 7 meeting.
Jucusco-Wright said: “Our constitution ensures that our Florida students have the right to an equal and uniform education, that is free of discrimination.
“I would argue that this text wholeheartedly discriminates against our students who live in a low socioeconomic condition. It also does not align with the new Florida standards, due to the lack of math literacy.
“Our district has ceded that that will be supported in previous courses. However, our proficiency rate in eighth-grade math right now is 55%,” she said.
She said teachers and students need support, but added: “this would be like offering them saltwater in the desert.
“This would not be an appropriate instructional material that would actually meet the overall standard.”
She also questioned the amount of money the district is spending on the textbook adoption, noting she had heard it was more than half-a-million dollars.
Lea Mitchell, director of the office for leading and learning, told the board that a hearing officer ruled that the district was within procedural guidelines that had been set forth by the state DOE.
“I would say in response to the public comment, there is absolutely accuracy in the fact the misalignment of state timelines puts every single school district in the state of Florida in a very hard position. Deleting course codes, making new graduation requirements, all in the midst of annual adoptions really does put us in a position where we have to make decisions for what’s best for our students in the moment,” she said.
She said the figures relating to around $600,000 were based on a five-year contract.
“Given the August decision of the State Board of Education, related to those course codes, it would not be our intention to enter into a five-year contract, knowing that the state is deleting courses and adding new ones.
“We do feel very confident that we are in compliance with state rules related to instructional materials. We’re well within our rights and terms of what we are up to.
“But I don’t disagree that there is a lot of misalignments in our state policies and practices that put us in a position where we are moving forward in adoptions, while also the state is making new graduation requirements and new course codes,” Mitchell said.
“Moving forward, as a district, we have made the decision — and you guys, also — to postpone all adoptions until the year after the adoption cycle at the state level, so that we never again are in a position to be in this cross-section.
“I will say though that it does hit our pocketbooks, in that all adoption cycles are within contracts and it creates what’s called gap years and you are out of contract, sometimes paying, double, triple and quadruple the costs.
“It is a convergence of many, many different complex issues that put us here today. But I do stand before you and say, I do believe we are well within the procedures, the regulations, the safeguards. And, I do believe that the department and the teachers will do their very best to pursue the standards of the courses they’re in right now, for this specific set of materials,” Mitchell said.
School board member Cynthia Armstrong added: “We had to go through the adoption of something to use for this year because the state did not release the standards in time for us to do anything.”
Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning noted the board’s vote was being taken in regard to adopting the hearing officer’s recommendation.
The superintendent said the hearing officer reviewed whether the school district followed state law and board policy.
“The hearing officer found that we had, as a district. You’re just adopting that report, that recommendation from the hearing officer,” Browning said.
The board voted unanimously to adopt the hearing officer’s recommendation, which says, in part, that the board should “enter a final order denying the petitions and proceeding with the adoption process in accordance with school board policy and applicable law, as recommended by the superintendent.”
Published November 15, 2023