Make CUSD Schoolwork Optional Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

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Over the past three and a half years, Claremont High School seniors have dedicated countless hours to our school and to our community. Many of us have jobs, younger siblings to look after, and other newfound duties during this unprecedented time. Meanwhile, others have had numerous hours of sports practice and extracurriculars every day, until the COVID-19 outbreak stopped it all. For a brief time, school offered relief to students as the district made all schoolwork optional. Students decided to spend their free time by getting full-time jobs to help make ends meet, helping out their families in their homes, taking online college classes to get a head start for next year, etc.

Now, CHS has decided to alter its grading policy and make all work mandatory for everyone, freshmen through seniors. During spring break, there was no prior warning of this change. Students have had a lot on their minds during the past month including: the health and safety of their friends and family, their economic situations with parents losing jobs and an unstable income, and simply their mental health. Mandating students to keep up with the same caliber of work during these unprecedented times will only add an unneeded and uncalled for level of stress to our lives. Students are already undergoing new challenges as their home lives shift in response to COVID-19, and adding the stress of maintaining grades will only make matters worse. Now is not the time to require students to prioritize academics over their health and family responsibilities - but mandating students to spend hours everyday in order to keep up with assignments will require students to make sacrifices in these aspects of their life, and for some, these sacrifices will be too costly to make. It would only serve to further penalize students in less fortunate situations.

Yesterday, on April 13, neighboring school districts announced that students should not have to worry about their grades because there are a lot more pressing matters currently on the minds of students and families. A message sent by the CJUHSD to their students and families stated, “The CDE [California Department of Education] explained that students are to be ‘held harmless’ and that baseline grades cannot drop. Grades can however improve if students stay engaged with their teachers, continue their learning and complete assignments/assessments.” This neighboring district in Rancho Cucamonga has decided to make classwork optional--they do not stand alone. 

Yesterday, the LAUSD superintendent, Austin Beutner, stated that all class assignments for the rest of the academic year will only count toward extra credit. His rationale for this decision was due to concerns about the mental health of students, as well as coming to the realization that for some, having large families all online at the same time, creates internet shortages that prevents students from being able to learn online. For the last month, CUSD has stated that they are following in the footsteps of LAUSD to ensure that we as a district are making sure that students are getting a strong education as well as making sure students are safe and healthy. 

CUSD has been aware that some students have been overwhelmed, and because of this, they made all assignments from the preceding month optional, and additional work could only improve--not hurt--our overall grades. As stated in Dr. James Elsasser’s March 19, 2020 letter to CUSD parents and guardians, “We have heard from our legal team this morning and they now support students being able to improve their grades by completing the work assigned during our dismissal.  If students choose not to participate, they cannot be penalized; however, if students do participate, they will receive credit which should ultimately improve their grades.” What students are now being told by many teachers contradicts what Dr. Elsasser’s legal team reported--some teachers are now requiring that students complete all assignments from the past month--despite being told that students could choose not to do so and would not be penalized. Consequently, students are facing the additional burdens of completing missing assignments while simultaneously dealing with the circumstances brought about by this global pandemic.  Although physical and mental health should be the priority, as we’ve been told by numerous public health officials, we are now facing the prospect of pulling all-nighters and jeopardizing our health to complete assignments that we were told we did not need to complete. Although some teachers are clearly empathetic and some may be dealing with their own COVID-19 health-related issues, there are clearly other teachers who wish to proceed with business as usual. Some teachers are still pushing the same hard deadlines to ensure that students do not get further behind. For many of us this means having to complete hours of math homework, research papers, econ/gov notes, etc. Now, students have just days to make up over a month of missed assignments and should not be expected to be held accountable--when it was clearly communicated that we “cannot be penalized.”

Many of us seniors are already preparing for the next stages of our lives. Most of us are in the midst of choosing which colleges to attend or searching for jobs in this gloomy economy. We realize that these are unprecedented times, but for seniors in particular, there is another level of disruption to our senior year.  The celebratory events that mark the culmination of finishing up second-semester senior year--an important milestone in many people’s lives--have been canceled or postponed. Senior year has already been marred by a series of atypical events, including on-campus construction and ransomware interfering with our education, and now we face a global pandemic that has ended our in-person classes, athletics, social events, and many other activities.  The senior experience has been greatly diminished this year, and we took you at your word that any schoolwork completed would be optional, and any additional work would only boost our grades. We feel that the rug has been unfairly pulled out from under us. We need for you to make things right, and to revert back to the policy that Dr. Elsasser announced on March 19, 2020--that schoolwork is optional. Please allow seniors to close out their last chapters at CHS and potentially Claremont, stress free.

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