At its Feb. 9 meeting, the San Benito High School Board of Trustees unanimously approved lowering the number of credits required to graduate for 83 seniors at risk of failing. The proposal, which drops the credit requirement from 220 to 190, was first presented to trustees on Jan. 26 when Assistant Principal Claire Grissom informed the board that the number of failing seniors had jumped to 13.9% from 7.15% in previous years.
Grissom updated her initial presentation by adding the demographics of seniors who will benefit from lowering the graduation units. A graph for the spring semester showed 80 senior students would benefit. Of those, 56 are male and 24 are female; 22 are Latinx, 17 white and 41 other.
“In terms of who benefits, I wanted to point out the 190-diploma has been available to our long-term, independent study for quite some time,” Grissom said. “What we’re doing here is making it available to all our students.”
Grissom recommended trustees approve the 190-unit diploma for seniors who were already behind, and to waive 20 elective credits and one 10-credit core course, which she said does not go below state diploma requirements.
Elain Klauer, director of educational services, wanted the board to be clear that educational equity is complex.
“Reflecting on that work is our belief system and removing barriers for our students,” she said. “We are still in a pandemic and these are not normal times, so the district must be relentless in their support for students, and it’s our moral obligation to meet the needs of our students.”
Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum said he supported the change and that even though the district did not create COVID-19, it needed to respond to the circumstances students are facing.
Resident Evelyn Muro was the only public comment call at the Zoom meeting. A former SBHS trustee with more than 40 years in education, Muro said she was struck by what was said at the previous board meeting, “that this proposal would be assisting failing students.”
“I don’t look at it that way,” she said. “Changing goalposts at the end of a game never assists anyone. Yes, maybe to win a diploma, but it doesn’t assist in providing skills they need in the future.”
Muro asked if there will be a separate diploma that differentiates the 190-unit graduation requirement from 220, and if the 190-unit independent study diploma would be lowered to 160 units. She also wondered what trustees planned to do for the failing seniors.
“Will they be offered summer school?” she asked. “Will they be able to attend adult or night school? Can they return for a fifth year? If a year from now they wish to complete a 220-unit graduation requirement, would they be able to? And is there a transition plan for these students? What kind of support and assistance do they have between the teachers and the students?”
Muro said a mass solution is not the answer to helping students.
“I don’t think papering over a problem solves the problem,” she said. “This issue will not go away next year. If I were a betting person, I would bet on the 2021-2022 school year not being back to normal. Whatever that is. Will the new 190-unit graduation stay in place? What’s the plan? I know how difficult it is to raise standards once they’ve been reduced.”
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