Remember when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — a huge supporter of giving families school “choice” — said at a news conference parents could decide whether their child should repeat a grade because of the disruption in learning during the covid-19 crisis?

To be exact, he said on March 17: “Parents may, at their discretion, decide to keep their child in the same grade for the 20-21 school year.”

Those remarks helped spark a national debate about whether holding students back because of learning loss during covid-19 was a good idea.

Well, it turns out that in Florida, parents don’t have sole discretion in that decision despite deSantis’s comment.

In fact, the “discretion” of parents starts and almost ends with making the decision to ask school officials whether their child can be held back, according to guidance from the Florida Department of Education. The final decision is to be made in consultation with school leaders and parents after a review of student progress, it says.

Asked to comment, Cody McCloud, press secretary to DeSantis, said the Florida Department of Education would answer. Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske cited the guidance and said in an email state officials have reached out to a district where some families were told they couldn’t hold their children back.

“Through these unprecedented times, we have been in constant contact with districts and offered guidance — insofar as acting as a liaison with parents, districts and schools if needed,” she said. “Our default is always compassion.”

Neither the department nor the governor’s office addressed queries about the discrepancy between the guidance and DeSantis’s comments.

The Bradenton Herald reported that some parents in Manatee County tried to get their children held back a year but some were told no. Reporter Giuseppe Sabella talked to Kelly Lee, who has a third-grade daughter, Peyton, with Down syndrome. Lee said she was relieved when she heard DeSantis put the decision in her hands about her daughter. Her daughter had trouble with virtual learning and became “'essentially nonverbal,” and she thought another year in third grade would be helpful.

But, after she asked, she was told by school officials her daughter could not be held back. She told the paper no one discussed her daughter with her between the time she requested retention and was then told “no.”

The Florida Education Department’s guidance on this issue — posted on its website and shared with school districts — says:

Student Promotion/Retention
• Decisions should be made in consultation with parents, teachers and school leaders based on students’ classroom performance and progress monitoring data.
• Parents should consult teachers and school leaders to determine student progress and mastery of curriculum.

Genelle Zoratti Yost, deputy superintendent of instructional services in Manatee County, said teams of educational professionals come together and look at data on a particular student to decide what is in his or her best interests. They can’t sit together at a conference table these days, as they would have in the past, but there is consultation among different parties before a decision is made, she said.

Some requests to hold back students have been approved and some rejected, she said.

It was always a no-brainer for educators that the decision should not be made solely by parents but in consultation with them — and apparently it was as well to the people who put together the official guidance. Do you think they told the governor?