Palm Beach County School Board bans smoking, calls for end to high-pressure FCAT

Board members said students are losing their hair

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Without saying a word, the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday night took two steps that may change behavior on its campuses - but spoke at length about a state policy it opposes but can't change.

Amid decisions about smoking and cellphone use at schools, four board members called for a decreased emphasis on the high-stakes standardized tests known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

FCAT scores affect school grades, teacher evaluations, course assignments and promotion and graduation decisions. Wednesday marked the third straight day of the tests, which cover reading, math and science.

"Students are so upset and anxious, they're losing their hair, they're not eating, they're not sleeping," school board member Karen Brill said. Board Chairman Frank Barbieri and members Marcia Andrews and Jenny Prior-Brown echoed her sentiments.

On matters closer to home, the board banned without discussion all smoking or use of other tobacco products anywhere on district-owned property or any school-sanctioned event, even if the event is not on district property. The policy will take effect July 1 and applies to everyone, including students, parents, employees and contractors.

District policy until July 1 allows adults to smoke outdoors at schools and other district properties if they are at least 50 feet away from a building exit.

The board also agreed to a cellphone policy change that gives middle and high school principals greater leeway in allowing students to use their phones during the school day.

Under the new policy, principals can allow students to use their phones as a tool during a lesson or to research an assignment. Students are to keep their phones off during the day when not being used for approved purposes.

With the FCAT, however, there was little board members or others could do but vent.

"It's just one test," Andrews said. "One test does not measure a student. But since we're under the mandate of the state with this, we'll have to do the best we can."

Barbieri suggested having board members discuss signing a resolution opposing high-stakes standardized tests and said he'd like to see that come up on the board's agenda sometime soon.

Other than that, all board members could offer students taking the FCATs was words of encouragement.

"Students, just do your best. That's all we ask," Andrews said. "We're going to love you anyway tomorrow and the next day."

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