By Collin Breaux

Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) has not yet made a decision on student graduations, in light of the evolving coronavirus pandemic.

The CUSD Board of Trustees heard a report from district officials about graduation, grading and other aspects of local education affected by the global shutdown during a meeting on Wednesday, April 15. Further discussion and decisions could happen at the board’s next meeting on April 29.

A report from Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Susan Holliday and Associate Superintendent of Student Support Services Greg Merwin said, on graduation, “it is a little early to make a plan because of the timing and conditions of our release from the health restrictions still remain uncertain.”

“We know the timing and conditions regarding our health restrictions may change, so we want to be mindful of that, but we want to be mindful of putting anyone at risk,” Holliday said during the meeting. “We want to be safe.”

Parents and students are wondering what will happen with graduation, and some have supported having graduation ceremonies. Other people have proposed virtual graduations. In-person gatherings have been discouraged by government and health officials to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

During the meeting, Holliday said surveys have been sent out asking for feedback about graduation, the results of which will be shared at the April 29 meeting.

CUSD officials also discussed how to handle grading during a time when students are continuing education through distance learning, another name for online education, which began March 24. One proposal is a “do not harm” approach, meaning campus closures should not negatively impact report card grades.

“ ‘Do no harm’ could be that no student receives a failing grade during the spring semester,” the report from Holliday and Merwin said. “Instead, if a student has not completed work to sufficiently assess their progress during the second semester, a ‘No Credit’ or ‘Incomplete’ could be given with students, provided the opportunity to finish the course, with no penalties, during the summer and/or when school resumes in the fall.”

Students would also not receive lower grades than grades they already have—for instance, students who got a B on a previous report card could not subsequently get a C. Trustee Patricia Holloway said she liked the recommendation for the “do no harm” approach.

Trustee Amy Hanacek also liked the recommendation but is open to tweaking it. Hanacek said the discussion on grades is facilitating a personalized approach to student education.

“We’ve got to look at each student. You’re going to have the high-performing student who wants a letter grade because life is competitive, and that’s how they operate,” Hanacek said. “And you’re going to have the children that are at-risk—and we have no idea what their challenges are—and they cannot be (harmed) with any of the decisions we make. Also, these are children.”

As for attendance tracking, CUSD is said to be taking note of student participation in online learning and is reaching out to families of students who aren’t checking in. School districts are not required to track daily attendance but are strongly encouraged to do so.

Parents and other members of the public called in to comment during the meeting on various aspects of education under the pandemic, including students needing a peer network, communication difficulties with teachers and the amount of homework assigned. Some parents also called for campuses to reopen and asked what will happen for the 2021 calendar.

Trustees and CUSD officials thanked people for the feedback and encouraged parents to continue coming forward with input, to reach out to teachers and guidance counselors if they have concerns, and to remember education is a “human business.”

“We have to take into account human variables as well. We don’t have robots on the other end teaching, even though they’re online classes,” Hanacek said. “I know everybody will have some patience with that.”

Testing and college entrance exams were also addressed by CUSD officials. Advanced Placement testing can be done at home with open books and notes.

“On April 1, 2020, the UC Office of the President announced measures to relax undergraduate admissions requirements to ‘mitigate some of the extraordinary challenges students and their families face,’ ” the report from Holloway and Merwin said.

“These measures,” the report continued, “include suspending the letter grade requirement for A-G courses completed in winter/spring/summer 2020 for all students, including UC’s most recently admitted freshmen; suspending the standardized test requirement for students applying for Fall 2021 freshman admission; providing that there will be no rescission of student admissions offers that result from students or schools missing official final transcript deadline and student retention of admission status through the first day of class until official documents are received by campuses.”

The CSU system also amended admission guidelines for incoming freshmen, including accepting “unofficial or self-reported data” due to campus closures.

Assessment and proficiency testing in California has been suspended by an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Students have received Chromebooks for distance learning, and school counselors have continued helping students. Holliday noted students and teachers are adapting to the new way of learning, which includes video and audio instruction, as the world has changed.

“My own child wakes up, and we look at our schedule so we know what is going on that day at what time, and it’s helpful to have that whole week in front of you as you prepare for your week to support your students or child,” Holliday said.

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