SBAC discusses policy changes 

Board Member Rockwell said policy on bathrooms needs clear language.
Board Member Rockwell said policy on bathrooms needs clear language.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) and citizen commenters provided more feedback to staff on upcoming policy changes during a public hearing at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday. 

The policy changes came in three segments: student conduct, student progression and book challenges. 

When the board heard the first reading of the student conduct policy changes, questions arose around several topics that led staff to amend the policy changes before the public hearing. 

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Following the board’s concerns, the policy requiring students to remove head coverings on the bus now allows principals to waive this requirement on a case-by-case basis for students with medical reasons or sincerely-held religious beliefs. 

Concerns also arose around the potential for disciplinary actions on students who use restrooms or changing rooms that do not correspond to their sex assigned at birth, and do not leave that room when staff asks them to. 

Anntwanique Edwards, Chief of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, said in order to remove the punitive nature of the conflict, the policy would require staff to write a referral for the student, which could mean anything from a warning or phone call home, to detention, at the discretion of the school administration. 

Board Member Sarah Rockwell said that leaves too much room for school administrators to make decisions based on their personal feelings toward particular minority groups and asked for more clarity in the policy language. 

“I think it’s really important to have it very clearly defined, particularly when you’re dealing with a piece in the student code of conduct that only impacts one particular group,” Rockwell said. “And when you have a vulnerable minority population, that we are required to have rules about by the state, I think it’s incredibly important to make sure that those rules are implemented consistently from school to school, and in a fair manner so that we’re not creating unnecessary fear or unnecessary inequities within our district.” 

Other board members agreed that the rule needs to have clear consequences in writing, and while Edwards said there is a matrix for deans to determine disciplinary actions on referrals, Rockwell and others said parents and teachers should know how those decisions are made. 

The second policy change, on student progression, would make 50% the lowest possible grade a student can make on an assignment, a topic which drew comments from several parents over the phone during the meeting, and one current teacher who asked the board to reconsider the superintendent’s recommendation. 

Marcel Davis, a middle school civics teacher, said he has noted apathy, not a lack of ability or equity, as the main roadblock to student success. 

“I don’t see how this grading policy tackles apathy,” Davis said “In fact, I think it exacerbates apathy. If the lowest grade a student can get on an assignment is 50%, what’s the encouragement for the student to even try to do anything?” 

Several board members nodded along while Davis spoke, and Board Member Kay Abbitt said students need grit to get through life, which they will not learn if a grading scale is weighted to make their lives easier. 

Board Member Tina Certain said she was torn on the issue, noting that students do need a reason not to be lazy, but that she would defer to those with experience as educators. 

Superintendent Shane Andrew said the 50% baseline is actually more fair than the traditional grading scale, as grades are spaced evenly, similar to a grade point average’s 0-4 grading scale. He said a proper grading scale should really be 0-50, not 0-100, as anything below 50 out of 100 puts a dent in a student’s class grade that is difficult to recover from. 

 “That way you give value to the zero,” Andrew said. “Nothing’s a zero, but it’s not a penalty.” 

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Atria said this change to policy was added after gathering the opinions of principals, teachers and students, and after reading research by Thomas Gusky and Douglas Reeves. 

Board members suggested that the policy might be changed to reflect that 50% be the lowest grade on work students turn in, but the grade could be lower if the student fails to turn in anything at all. 

“Yes, students will give up if they miss an assignment or two or get really, really low scores… because it’s too hard to get back, and it takes too many really high scores to see any movement in the right direction,” Rockwell said. “But at the same time, if there’s no differential between, ‘I tried and I failed,’ and ‘I didn’t try at all,’ you will have students who know they’re gonna fail just not bother.” 

The third portion of the policy change related to the handling of book challenges, a process the district has been reforming since a new law came into effect last year, spurring a steady stream of book challenges. 

The new changes will remove witnesses and testimonies from the book challenge process and allow the district to enact procedural changes immediately if state law changes again, followed by the three-month process to get policy amendments that catch up with the procedure. 

Board members asked for one change to the new policy, eliminating the challengers’ ability to use a representative to speak. 

A new state law that takes effect in July will restrict non-parent challenges, and a citizen speaker as well as some board members noted that allowing a representative could create a loophole. They noted that someone with no children could ask a parent to file a challenge, then designate the childless citizen as their representative and allow them to speak. 

District attorney Susan Seigle asked to allow legal representatives to remain in the policy, as every person has a right to be represented by an attorney. Board members agreed, but asked that the attorney be certified to practice law in Florida. 

Administrative Appointments 

The board also approved three administrative appointments recommended by the superintendent. 

Will Spillias will start work as staff attorney for Alachua County Public Schools on July 22, taking over from Seigle, who came out of retirement to fill the position until a permanent replacement was found. Spillias has been general counsel for Leon County Public Schools since 2021. 

“I’m very pleased to have worked with you all for this past year, but I’m looking forward to going back into retirement,” Seigle told the board. 

A new transportation director, Desiree Fisher, is set to begin work on June 24, taking over from Dontarrius Rowls, who took the position only a year ago. Fisher has several years of experience as transportation director for Flagler Schools. 

The board also approved the reappointment of Kari Cronin to continue as assistant principal of W.W. Irby Elementary School. 

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As a teacher in Alachua County, I DO NOT agree with 50% being the lowest grade a student can earn. I am an ESE teacher and this is already in place for those students with IEPs who struggle academically. Even with some of them I have witnessed where they don’t try because they know they’ll get a 50%. This is a bad idea to make it a rule across the board for all!!!

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

“Board members suggested that the policy might be changed to reflect that 50% be the lowest grade on work students turn in, but the grade could be lower if the student fails to turn in anything at all.”
Yes: if the student turns in nothing, the grade is zero. If the student does turn in the assignment or project, the grade can be anywhere in the range 0-100, based on the teacher’s evaluation. Nobody should automatically get 50% just for existing; one EARNS a grade. Now, of course the teacher should be free to permit the student to submit late or to re-submit (probably with a grade penalty), but that’s up to the individual teacher.
Anyway, that’s the opinion of this person who was a complete jerk in high school and who suffered therefrom.


The girls using the girls restroom when a boy comes in and says I identify as a girl. The girls, a majority, are more vulnerable than the boy who wants to be a girl. Don’t give me baloney about a “vulnerable” minority!
This is happened at a Planet Fitness recently when a man came into the ladies locker room and PF would do nothing about it. The feelings of the majority in these cases are more important than the feelings of one perverted person.
It has to stop.