Three charter schools seek relief under Florida’s ‘double-F’ rule

Of the unprecedented eight charter schools that face closure after getting F’s in two straight years, three are asking the state for waivers that would allow them to stay open next school year.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the schools that had requested waivers by Monday’s deadline were Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County, Florida International Academy Elementary School in Miami-Dade County, and Broward Charter School of Science and Technology.

State law requires charter schools that receive “double F’s” to lose their charters unless they receive a waiver from the state Board of Education. The decisions are rare, and a school can only receive such a waiver once.

Schools can also appeal their grades. The Palm Beach Post reported at least one South Florida school was considering that option.

The double-F rule stems from the original theory behind charter schools, which are supposed to trade more operational freedom for stricter accountability. There’s some flexibility for special cases — such as schools that serve a disadvantaged population that might need a little extra time to raise its achievement.

Sonia Mitchell, the executive director of Florida International Academy, said she believes that’s the case at her elementary school, where nine in ten students are black and 97 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. While a middle school at the same Opa-Locka location earned a C, the elementary school received its second consecutive F, its third in four years of grades.

“I’m doing some soul searching and I’m thinking, well, maybe that was not enough time with these fourth and fifth graders,” she said.

Parents are also trying to make the case to the state. Doteanna Armand, the head of the school’s parent-teacher organization, said she rounded up more than 200 signatures from co-workers and fellow parents for a letter to the department in support of Florida International Academy’s waiver request.