To grant relief to a community still reeling from a school shooting that left 17 dead, Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping education bill exempting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, including graduating seniors, from taking standardized tests this spring.
But it didn't specifically give a waiver to about 1,500 underclassmen — half the student body — who are, sooner or later, on the hook for taking exams required for a high school diploma.
That's why Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie asked the governor Wednesday to exempt all Stoneman Douglas students from standardized tests — not just those the Legislature exempted. Runcie asked Scott to issue an executive order or direct the Department of Education to exempt those underclassmen who were also there during the Feb. 14 shooting.
Students could postpone taking the Algebra I and English Language Arts exams, normally taken in ninth and tenth grade. But parents fear the tests will be hard to pass after students move on to other subjects.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Taking these tests during this time of mourning and recovery is not reasonable, nor is adding the burden of taking these tests — in addition to future course work — appropriate," Runcie wrote.
Scott's office has said that the governor does not have the legal authority to issue an executive order exempting students from state testing requirements.
"The Governor signed a law this year that provides an abundance of exemptions and flexibility for testing for all students at MSDHS this year," said communications director John Tupps in a statement. "We have communicated that several times with Superintendent Runcie that testing requirements are outlined in state law and can only be changed by the Florida Legislature."
The next legislative session, however, will not begin until March 2019, when students face another round of standardized testing.
Scott's office also pointed to a memo sent by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to Runcie last month detailing how students who do not wish to take the test this spring can take them later in the fall or next spring, or they can take alternative assessments to satisfy graduation requirements.
Broward County school district spokeswoman Nadine Drew said Thursday that the district has not "formally heard from the governor that he has no authority in the matter." She said that Runcie's letter was intended to formalize his request.
The letter comes after more than 9,500 people signed an online petition started by Shannon Fest, the mother of a 15-year-old Douglas High student who struggles to make it through a full day of school.
"I don't think any parent, after this happened had this on their radar, had any clue that our kids would be testing," Fest said. "[My daughter's] got three years to take it. So you're going to hold this over her head for three years?"
Fest's petition specifically addressed the governor, who is now running for the U.S. Senate. She said anyone who would question the governor's actions to exempt Stoneman Douglas students would be "committing political suicide."
"He is the governor. He has the power to fix this if need be. The facade of 'There's nothing I can do' we know is not true in politics," she said.
Fest said she's heard that many parents are spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on private tutoring for their kids to take the test this year, when the curriculum is fresh in their minds. Her daughter, who is not being tutored, will most likely sit for the test unless there's a resolution.
"Being an election year, this is only going to make you a hero in the eyes of these kids and this community and these parents," she said. "That's all we're asking for: A little relief here."