By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Colfax Board of Education is seeking a waiver from the state Department of Public Instruction on instructional hours and also has changed graduation requirements for this year.
The Board of Education approved offering an option as well to some middle school students and all high school students to choose a letter grade for a class or pass/no pass.
The school board held a special meeting May 12 on the DPI waiver for the 2019-2020 school year and on changing graduation and grading requirements.
Holding a public hearing was part of the requirement for seeking a waiver, although no members of the public attended the special meeting to speak either for or against the proposed waiver.
Most of the school districts in the state have either already asked for a waiver or will be asking for a waiver, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator.
All schools in the state have been closed since March 19, and students have been doing their schoolwork at home.
If school district officials believe their district is not going to meet the instructional hours requirement, then those school districts must have a waiver, Yingst said.
The instructional hours requirement pertains to both regular education and special education, and while Yingst said he was confident the Colfax school district would have enough instructional hours to meet the requirement this year, obtaining a waiver would be a good idea anyway.
The DPI offered the waivers about six weeks ago, and DPI officials are willing to work with the school districts in the state, he said.
The request for a waiver involves filling out an online form that is fairly simple and straight forward and then keeping the paperwork in the school district, such as the resolution approved by the school board asking for a waiver, Yingst said.
Approval of the waivers has a fast turn-around time, and Yingst said he expected Colfax would have the waiver within 24 hours of submitting the application.
The waiver is in effect for the 2019-2020 school year only due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Schools in Wisconsin are closed for the remainder of the school year until June 30.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved the resolution.
Voting in favor of the resolution were Todd Kragness, school board president, and school board members Jodi Kiekhafer, Andrew De Moe, Ken Bjork, Kyle Knutson, Jaci Ackerlund and Ken Neuburg.
The school board also suspended the current graduation requirements of 24 credits and adopted new requirements of 15 credits for the Colfax High School Class of 2020.
The state requires 15 credits to graduate, and Colfax requires an additional nine elective credits for a total of 24 credits, Yingst said.
The suspension of the 24 credit requirement would only be for the 2019-2020 school year and only for the Class of 2020, he said.
The 15-credit requirement includes four English credits, three social studies credits, three mathematics credits, three science credits, 1.5 physical education credits and a half a credit for health education.
Adjusting the credit requirement will allow flexibility for this year’s graduating seniors “just in case,” said John Dachel, Colfax High School principal.
The situation the school district wants to avoid is having students struggling to finish the nine elective credits of the 24 credits because school is closed and they are working at home, Yingst said.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved temporarily suspending the 24-credit graduation requirements for the 2019-2020 school year and approving the alternate graduation requirements of the 15 credits required by the DPI and the Colfax school district.
At the special meeting May 12, the school board also approved pass/no pass for students in junior kindergarten to seventh grade, allowing eighth grade students to choose either pass/no pass or a letter grade for high school classes being taken for credit, and allowing high school students to choose pass/no pass or letter grades as well.
The students most likely will choose pass/no pass unless they want the letter grade for a class that will count toward their grade point average (GPA), Yingst said.
Eighth grade students can, for example, take high school algebra or geometry, and they may want to choose the letter grade since it would count toward their GPA, he said.
The exception for high school students is that all Distance Learning classes and Transcripted Credit classes will be given a letter grade only that will count toward the high school student’s GPA, Yingst said.
The universities and technical colleges that offer Distance Learning and Transcripted Credit classes require the classes to count toward the GPA, he said.
Yingst said he anticipates that in the future, some students could run into problems with a pass/no pass designation for their classes.
The Colfax school district plans to annotate the grade transcripts with “COVID-19” so anyone reviewing the transcripts later realizes pass/no pass was because of the pandemic and that students were working from home, he said.
The school district wants to meet the needs of the students, and since all universities are approaching the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways, Dachel said he believes the COVID-19 label on the transcripts will help.
The school district is requiring a signature form for the letter grades, otherwise the students will be graded on pass/no pass, Yingst said.
Ackerlund asked whether it was “all or nothing” — that is, either the students have pass/no pass for all of their classes or they must have letter grades for all of their classes.
The students can choose which classes they want as pass/no pass and which classes they want for letter grades, Dachel said.
If students are working especially hard on a particular class, they deserve to get the credit for their GPA if they want it, he said.
Students will have until June 19 as a “drop dead” deadline before receiving an incomplete, Yingst said.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved the modified grading policy for the 2019-2020 school year.