Sarasota County School District increasing diversity in advanced classes

Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | July 13, 2021

The Sarasota County School District has made significant gains in the number of students participating in advanced classes over the past five years, according to an annual equity report. 

The report examined the percentage of white, Black and Hispanic students who were taking any advanced course, including honors, advanced placement, Advanced International Certificate of Education, International Baccalaureate and dual enrollment courses. The School Board was scheduled to approve the report on Tuesday.

Between 2015 and 2020, the percentage of all students taking at least one advanced course increased from 60% to 73%. Among the other findings:

  • The number of white students enrolled in an advanced course increased from 66% to 76%
  • The number of Black students enrolled in an advanced course increased from 31% to 57% 
  • The number of Hispanic students enrolled in an advanced course increased from 49% to 69%

Harriet Moore, the district’s director of innovation and equity, said schools have used a variety of approaches to increase diversity within advanced classes.

At Riverview High School, all freshmen are automatically enrolled in Pre-IB English, which puts them on a track to eventually enter IB English. Students who can’t handle the rigor get moved into a more basic English 1 class, Moore said. 

“School counselors have been trained to look for opportunities that allow a student to excel in areas that align to their strengths,” Moore wrote in an email. 

In addition, all high schools are allowing juniors and seniors to enroll in the AICE General Paper course, an English class that can count toward high school graduation and allows students to earn college credits. 

In general, Moore said schools are taking a holistic approach in determining who can enroll in an advanced course, and instead of relying solely on one metric, schools are also using teacher recommendations, grade point average, behavior, and other factors as well.  

Title IX Compliance 

Every high school in Sarasota is out of compliance with Title IX, the federal law that, in part, requires boys and girls to have equitable opportunities to participate in sports, according to the equity report.

Each school had to submit a breakdown of the number of male and female participants in junior varsity and varsity sports. Moore said high schools are rarely in compliance because football programs are so large. 

District-wide, males accounted for 59% of the high school athletes, and females made up 41%. Venice High had the largest gap, with 61% boys and 39% girls; while North Port High had the smallest gap, with 55% boys and 45% girls.  

High schools in Sarasota are taking a variety of approaches to increase the percentage of females participating in sports, according to the report.

Riverview High will be adding beach volleyball next year, and Booker High is considering adding beach volleyball and girls wrestling. Sarasota High added girls lacrosse last year.

North Port High claimed to be in compliance, but the state rejected its Title IX calculation because the school included competitive cheerleading when reporting the overall number of girls participating in sports.

According to the report, the federal Office of Civil Rights does not allow schools to include competitive cheer in their calculations.

Tony Miller, the athletic director at North Port High School, said no one had told him that he was not allowed to count competitive cheerleading and that it didn’t make sense because it is a sport run by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

The district was requesting clarity on the cheer issue because some districts have been allowed to count competitive cheerleading while others have not. 

“Our competitive cheer team was the No. 2 team in the state this year,” Miller said. “And it’s an FHSAA sport, so it’s not like we’re just counting numbers.”

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