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Graduation made easier: Oswego School District 308 Board votes 5-2 to cut requirements

Board member Brent Lightfoot questioned the need to lower graduation requirements at Oswego High School and Oswego East High School due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the suspension of in-class learning, during the Oswego School District 308 Board of Education meeting Monday, May 11.
Board member Brent Lightfoot questioned the need to lower graduation requirements at Oswego High School and Oswego East High School due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the suspension of in-class learning, during the Oswego School District 308 Board of Education meeting Monday, May 11.

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The Oswego School District 308 Board of Education has reduced graduation requirements for members of the Oswego East and Oswego High School Classes of 2020.

The board approved the change in a split, 5-2 vote during a meeting conducted remotely Monday evening, May 11. Board Vice President Matt Bauman and board member Brent Lightfoot voted against the change.

Guidance for the change in requirements was included in an executive order issued by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker April 24 as part of the state's ongoing efforts to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

State recommended reductions in graduation requirements included exempting 12th grade students from physical education and health requirements, exempting 12th grade students from consumer education requirements, and setting the minimum requirements for core subjects to 3.5 years for language arts, 2.5 years for mathematics, 1.5 years for science and social studies classes, and .5 years for music, art, foreign language and vocational education.

Pritzker's executive order did give local boards of education the ability to reduce or shift graduation requirements, due to the suspension of in-person teaching.

In its vote, the OSD 308 Board of Education dropped graduation requirements by .5 credit, instead of the state's recommendations. The drop means that to graduate, seniors must have in their core classes: 3.5 credits of language arts, 2.5 credits of math including Algebra 1 and a course with Geometry content, 2 credits of science including a biological science course and a physical science course, 2 credits of social studies including 1 credit of Modern World History and either 1 credit of U.S. History or a half credit of U.S. History and a half-credit of civics.

The requirement for consumer education was dropped.

Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist told the board that making the change would assist students struggling with remote learning who may have earned better grades in the classroom. Students who would have normally received an "incomplete" in a course, would graduate under these changes, she explained.

"This is a difficult decision to make because we're proud of the high graduation requirements that we have," she said, "But we also want to be very careful that we are not causing harm through remote learning to have less graduation requirements."

Seventy students at both Oswego High School and Oswego East High School are currently at academic risk, Dahlquist told the board, though she did clarify that many students turn in assignments and projects at the last minute.

Some board members raised concerns over the process the district was using to determine which students were at risk of not graduating.

"Obviously we all understand that things are very different in a remote learning environment, but I keep going back to the fact that under the state guidelines and under the guidelines that the district is using, students who are already enrolled in spring semester can't risk getting a lower grade than what they had when we started remote learning," Lightfoot said.

"That leads me to believe that where we're talking about students and risk, we're actually not talking necessarily about students who now may have additional financial obligations to their families or other things going on, or they had to temporarily relocate out of the area."

While Lightfoot said he was encouraged by "extending the deadline" for students to hand in assignments, he said he was reluctant to lower graduation requirements.

"Getting a diploma from SD308 is something you earn, not something you should be given," he said.

"I'm not trying to apply blanket statements here. I'm just saying in general terms, I feel we're giving the same...leeway to support students who need it, and we're willing to accommodate on a case-by-case basis if needed...what I'm trying to get at, is a student who has purposefully decided to check out and not do anything and has no real reason for doing that other than to say, 'I don't wanna,' there's gotta be consequences for that action," Lightfoot added.

Bauman also questioned what additional efforts could have been taken to reach out to students who are not communicating or completing assignments, instead of lowering requirements.

"As different as the last couple of months have been, and as strenuous as they have been, there are still certain expectations we should have," Bauman said.

While student grades cannot be lowered by their work in remote learning, they can receive an "Incomplete" in a course, Dahlquist explained. Teachers are making regular attempts to check in with students who are not communicating through electronic means, or are not turning in assignments, she added.

Graduation ceremonies for OHS and OEHS students will be held between June 16 and June 18.

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