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U-CF School District votes to keep Keystone requirement

01/23/2018 10:09AM ● Published by J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The rule that students must pass the Keystone exams before graduating in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District will remain after the school board voted at their Jan. 22 meeting to keep the requirement.

In a meeting held at Patton Middle School, the board considered a motion to change the graduation requirement in the district after many other school districts in the state have dropped the mandatory test.

Assistant superintendent John Nolen told the board before the vote that, “This motion would change our current graduation requirement. Our current requiremtent is 22 credits, as well as that students are proficient on the three Keystone exams. If this motion passes, that would change to removing the Keystone exams, and the 22 credits would remain.”

The administration recommended keeping the Keystone requirement.

Nolen pointed out that, “2017 was the first year that the Keystone requirement came into full effect. All of our students were able to meet the requirement. There were a few who met it through IEP goals, or additional pathways. The vast majority passed the Keystones, some on the second or third try.

“Obviously, there is a difference of opinion in regard to testing, but from my perspective anyway, I've never wanted to take a test that didn't mean a lot to me,” Nolen said. “I know at the high school, students are taking so many important tests, such as the SAT and AP exams, and when you put a test in front of them that doesn't really mean as much … Well, I know a lot of students did their best, but I know that there were exceptions. The Keystone is testing what we teach, which is well-aligned to the state standards. To make sure it's worthwhile, the adminsitration feels that the test should count for something. Students do have to take it. That is a state mandate, for both the PSSA and the Keystones.”

Board member Gregg Lindner, who was listening to the meeting via telephone, said, “The state does not mandate it, as far as passing the Keystones to graduate. Most of the 499 other districts in the state are getting good information from the tests, but they just don't require that students pass in order to graduate.”

Board vice-president Victor Dupuis added, “If we're going to make the kids take the test because the state requires it, it's silly to not have it mean something to them. For that reason, I'll be voting against this.”

The vote was 8 to 1 to keep the graduation requirement in place in the district. Lindner was the dissenting vote.

During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, a resident addressed the recent controversy surrounding changing the Indians mascot at the high school. A public meeting was canceled last week after online commentary on the issue became too heated. The administration will call another public meeting in the near future.

Birmingham Township resident Scott Woodhouse told the board, “I grew up in western New York. My great-grandmother is a daughter of the chief of the Seneca tribe. The thing that bothered me the most about the discusssion was that, when Columbus arrived, he called the people who were already there Indians, but they weren't Indians. They were Native Americans. Columbus got it wrong, but it's not a big deal. Indians are from India.

“If we really want to talk about the issue, let's talk about the reservations,” Woodhouse said, citing the substandard health care offered to Native Americans. The issue of the Indians name is not a big issue, he said. “Native Americans poke fun at how absurd this is. It's not about offending anybody, because they're not Indians to begin with. ... What brought me here is my concern about what's happening in the district, as a conservative parent. What we're seeing more and more is that our kids are being taught on a very liberal side, and we only ask for it to be balanced.”

Another resident addressed the proposed changes to the district's policy regarding student suspensions.

Unionville High School students who were caught smoking e-cigarettes at a football game last fall received varying school suspensions, leading some parents to complain to the School Board that the Code of Student Conduct for the district was perhaps too strict when it came to first-time offenders. Suspensions are reported on a student's transcript, which in some cases excludes the student from applying to colleges of their choice.

Under the current code, possession or use of any tobacco product is a level E offense, requiring a suspension from school of one to three days. At the Jan. 16 School Board work session, district superintendent John Sanville presented a new draft version of the policy, No. 218, that allows some leniency.

The proposal allows a student to get a review if the suspension was a first offense, and there were no other serious offenses. The student would submit a request in writing to the superintendent. If approved, the policy change could take effect in March, and would apply to all current Unionville High School students.

The revised policy reads, in part, “The superintendent will not hold a hearing, but will consider the request on the basis of the documentary record, the seriousness of the offense, and such further investigation as he deems appropriate. At his discretion, he may request a meeting with the student and his or her parents of guardian. The superintendent shall issue a written decision to the student, granting or denying the request. Such decision shall be final.”

Board members generally approve of the revision. At the board's Jan. 16 work session, several, including John Murphy and Thomas Day, questioned whether Level A offenses – including “boisterous behavior,” failure to complete an assignment, being late to class or kissing another student – should be excluded.

Sanville said the administration is working on the draft and will revisit the subject at a future meeting.

The board voted unanimously to accept a proposal from Environmental Control Systems, Inc., that outlines the costs for removing two boilers at Hillendale Elementary School, both of which contain asbestos. The work will cost $34,497.50.

The board also announced the results of its recent evaluations of Sanville and Nolen. Both were rated as 'Distinguished' regarding their performance standards. This was the first year that both the superintendent and the assistant superintendent were formally evaluated.

Visit www.ucfsd.org for updated district information.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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