Florida bar exam canceled for in-person testing, moves to online
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners has canceled the state's in-person two-day bar exam at the end of July and is replacing it with an online test on Aug. 18.
The board, with the approval of the Florida Supreme Court, announced the change Wednesday.
Previously, the exam had been scheduled for the traditional two parts on July 28 and 29. To accommodate social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, half of the summer test-takers would sit in Tampa and half would go to Orlando.
Typically, the bar exam is a two-day process in which law school graduates sit for a written exam one day and a multiple-choice test, called the Multistate Bar Examination, the next.
The online version of the test this summer will be a single-day test that is a combination of written essays and multiple-choice questions that the state's Bar Examiners will compose.
The decision to cancel the in-person examination comes in the wake of law school students, deans, professors and even some state lawmakers pressuring the board to reconsider the in-person test as the daily number of confirmed cases of coronavirus set records throughout the state.
Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida that the previous decision to stick with in-person testing was based "on the then-available public health information and consultation with the Florida Department of Health and other health experts."
Since then, "based on current data regarding the increased spread of COVID-19 in the state of Florida and elsewhere, the Board concluded that it should modify its plan for the administration of a General Bar Examination," he added.
As of Wednesday, Florida had 158,997 people who had tested positive.
In Orange County, where the expanded bar exam site would have been, 10,874 have tested positive, with an 8% positivity rate. In Hillsborough County, traditional home of the state bar exam, 11,465 have tested positive, with a 9% positivity rate.
“I’m ecstatic. I had tears in my eyes and I’m getting choked up again," Cathren Page, a professor at Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Georgia, said in an interview. "They’ve made the right decision. I’m so glad that they did this and I’m so thankful to everyone who fought so hard for it."
In May, Page started a petition to urge the board to reconsider in-person testing. At the time, she was a law professor at Barry University's Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Orlando.
“I felt certain that someone I knew was probably going to die or become disabled as a result of this process...or they would have to forego the bar," she said. She added that moving the test online also is "one less health risk."
Several petitions also circulated online more recently that collected thousands of signatures to demand the board reconsider testing measures. One Twitter account, created this June and named "Florida Bar Exam Petition 2020," is run by a law school student who asked not to be identified.
The purpose of the account was to agitate on behalf of others who feared contracting COVID-19 when taking the in-person exam. The account circulated several of the existing petitions and asked people to send impact statements to a posted email and sign a petition that would be sent to the state's Supreme Court.
"We are immeasurably proud of the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Board of Bar Examiners for doing the right thing and making a change in order to ensure the health and safety of their examinees and their families and communities," the account-user sent in a message to the Tallahassee Democrat on Wednesday following the announcement.
Florida A&M University College of Law Dean Deidre Keller lauded the board's and state supreme court's decision to postpone and "prioritize the health and safety of applicants."
“These measures are responsive to the concerns expressed by prospective bar takers and will certainly help to eliminate an enormous stressor for FAMU Law grads and others who will take the exam this summer," Keller said in an emailed statement to the Democrat.
Separately, Bianca Baez — a 2019 graduate of Florida State University College of Law — told the Democrat she was "happy ... I truly am." She was set to take the bar this July.
Baez said she is still trying to figure out the logistical details of the online exam, but said the board "made the correct decision."
“It’s literally been a movement," she said of the collective student and professor efforts to sway the board.
In early April, 12 Florida law schools co-signed a letter to the Florida Supreme Court and Board of Bar Examiners advocating for alternative testing measures.
“I’m happy, I’m relieved ... I think the students around Florida came together to get this done," Baez said.
CD Davidson-Hiers is an education reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact her at 850-631-0958, or CDavidsonH@Tallahassee.com. Twitter: @DavidsonHiers.
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.