- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Kenyata Johnson is worried that her 7-year-old son might become an academic casualty of Hurricane Ivan.

The first-grader is among 92,000 Escambia and Santa Rosa county students who will return to their classrooms on Monday after missing 19 school days because of the storm that slammed the Florida Panhandle on Sept. 15.

In varying degrees, the four hurricanes hitting Florida since August have affected all public schools and students this year. The 67 districts all have missed at least one day. Many missed a week or more. St. Lucie County, struck by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, missed 21 days.

That has parents and teachers concerned that their children will be hurt academically and lose precious time needed to prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in February and March. The FCAT can determine whether a student graduates or advances to the next grade. Poor results can lead to a school losing students and, eventually, being shut down.

Mrs. Johnson’s son, Anthony Grandison, doesn’t have to worry about taking the test yet. Children take it for the first time in third grade, and Anthony is repeating the first grade because he did poorly last year. Still, Mrs. Johnson doesn’t want him or his 6-year-old sister, Alexandra Burt, also in the first grade, to suffer because of the lost time.

“I went out to Wal-Mart and bought books for them. They do work at home and study their spelling words,” said Mrs. Johnson, 26, a certified nurse’s assistant. “If there’s anything I can do, I would like for them to let me know so I can help.”

Gov. Jeb Bush, while inspecting storm-damaged Pensacola High School, said the FCAT will be delayed for some school districts, but he will not let children in even the worst-hit areas skip the test altogether.

“The counties that have had the largest damage and longest number of days out will be the ones that will take the test last,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re going to be as flexible as possible, but we’re not going to lower standards, and we’re not going to say, ‘Well, the trauma of this means that we’re going to move back from our accountability system.’”

The children can get back on track if districts tinker with the state-required 180-day school year and regain lost time by canceling or reducing fall, spring and holiday breaks and teacher planning days.

Teachers say their students not only will have to deal with FCAT stress, but with the pressure put on them by what the hurricanes did to their community, destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and businesses. In some districts, every school was damaged to some degree.

The testing stakes are as high for schools as they are for students. A school getting an F two years out of four could lose students to other public schools or to private schools.

Schools that raise grades can get a $100-per-student bonus, money that can be shared with teachers and staff or spent on school improvements. The FCAT also helps determine whether schools make “adequate yearly progress” to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

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