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State Sen. Smitherman: Literacy Act third-grade retention without delay ‘cruel and unusual’

Under the 2019 Literacy Act, children who cannot read at a third-grade level by the end of their third-grade year would not be promoted to the fourth grade.

Since its passage, the law has been a target of some Democrats and the Alabama Education Association. Last year, the law staved off a delay because Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed legislation that would have instituted a two-year pause in implementation.

Late last year, however, Ivey signaled she would support a delay in the Literacy Act.

During an appearance on Thursday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), who was a proponent of the 2021 effort and is leading this year’s effort, explained why he saw the delay as necessary.

“[T]he kids can’t be the scapegoat,” he said. “They didn’t create the pandemic. They don’t decide how much tutoring they get. They can’t decide whether a teacher is going to be there. They can’t decide whether a school is going to be open. They can’t decide whether they’re going to be on Zoom or have a packet. And they sure can’t decide whether they’re going to get tutors or not because we don’t even have enough teachers.”

“So yes, it would be cruel and unusual to flunk them when we haven’t prepared them not to be flunked,” Smitherman added. “I think we need to continue on giving them tutorials. And as a coach — I coach high school girls’ basketball, and one thing I notice is all players will bloom, but they just don’t bloom at the same time. And so because of that — the person that is there now, if you continue to give them some enrichment, tutorials in the evening — then it may be when they’re moving out of the fourth [grade] when they actually get it. But they’ll have a chance to get it.”

“But if you’re going to put a pass or fail and flunk them, then really what you’re doing, and you have to take this under consideration — you are tearing out the heart of a lot of those students when you hold them back,” he continued. “I know as grown people, we see it from our eyes. But I’m just telling you from the kids and from the parents of those kids — it’s no hope in a situation where they couldn’t control it all, as I just mentioned to you.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

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