Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Closed Courses -- In High School?
Since mid-July, I’ve been fielding phone calls from parents asking why their children, who are enrolled in small and medium size Iowa public school districts, have been unable, for two or more years, to enroll in courses at their high schools that are state-required for graduation. They ask, “If these courses are required, how can they be closed?”
Many of these parents are shocked when I explain that although the Iowa Administrative Code sets out the specific course credits that students must complete to earn a diploma, Iowa Law does NOT require public high schools to offer more than one section of those courses per school year.
Students in Iowa’s large school districts generally encounter few, if any, scheduling problems that interfere with completion of required graduation credits. However, in order to complete their required accredited graduation credits, some students in some small and medium districts must enroll in online (“distance learning”) courses (see e.g., http://www.kirkwood.edu/distancelearning ), or to enroll in courses offered at regional centers (see, e.g., Linn County Regional Center, at http://www.kirkwood.edu/linnacademies ). In regard to the second option, on the condition that students pass such courses, some school districts underwrite the cost of tuition and transportation.
Iowa Code § 275.1 requires the state’s area education agency boards to develop detailed studies and surveys of the school districts within their respective areas for the purpose of providing for reorganization of school districts in order to effect more economical operation and the attainment of higher standards of education in the schools. If those agencies are not doing so now, as a part of their duties under Iowa Code § 275.1(2), they should be investigating the extent to which school districts are restricting the number of seats available annually in core graduation courses.
The experience of taking courses online or at regional centers is not equivalent to taking the same courses in a high school. Students taking courses that originate beyond their school districts are burdened with a host of logistical, adjustment, and sometimes economic issues, that include, but are not limited to: additional registration requirements, different and additional requirements of online or regional center instructors, a possible lack at home of a computer and Internet connection sufficient to work on courses at home, a lack of available computers at the school to work on online courses during school hours, and a loss of significant amounts of time spent riding buses or otherwise commuting to and from a regional center site (often returning after dark).
And if this isn't difficult enough, in the context of these courses, what happens to the provision of accommodations and services required by some students’ IEPs and 504 plans?