Bill Would Offer Ohio High School Students A Do-Over On Last Year’s Classes

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — School administrators are raising questions about a new bill designed to help high school students get back on track following pandemic-related setbacks.

Empty hallway in a high school
The hallways of Athens High School remain dormant as students are hard at work catching up on recent academic setbacks.

The High School Academic Recovery Act would establish the Supplemental School Year Program. This would allow students at all public high schools to retake classes they completed during the 2020-2021 school year.

Schools would be required to update student transcripts, replacing their old grades with the new ones. The program could provide a significant GPA boost to all high school students enrolled last year – including those who have already graduated.

An Ohio House committee held its second hearing on the bill June 9. Nearly two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors are already on board to implement this universal blueprint for the academic recovery process.

Many schools, however, are already compensating for the setbacks by strengthening their summer school and online education programs.

“Our learning loss is large, no different than any other school district,” Athens High School principal Chad Springer said. “We responded to the pandemic in a way that befitted Athens High School.”

For schools like Athens, adapting credit recovery efforts under the proposed Supplemental School Year Program would be simple.

“We’re already doing credit recovery, we would just replace the grade from the prior year,” Springer said.

Yet there is more to this bill than meets the eye. Barbara Shaner, advocacy specialist for the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators, brought many unanswered questions to light at the latest committee hearing.

“If a student graduated and they didn’t get the experience that they wanted, they could appeal to their boards of education to come back and repeat their full senior year,” Shaner said. “Allowing some students to come back would have an impact on kids already in the district … because you would be having additional kids in a class that (they) would not normally be attending. It could affect staffing, and we would need to make sure we have enough classrooms and so on.”

In her testimony, Shaner also raised concerns regarding availability of scholarships and other financial assets. She worries that if too many students retake classes they received B’s or C’s in, the program could easily overwhelm schools’ available resources.

“It creates a few, what we think are maybe unintended consequences — for either other students or the districts themselves,” Shaner said.

Still, a lot of the power is left in the districts’ hands. They have the final say on who can retake a class and what they can retake.

School boards could regulate the number of classes a student can repeat, which classes are offered, or whether a student had to have failed a class to retake it.

But would truant students be eligible? Or, could enrollment affect a student’s graduation date? The questions facing administrators are numerous.

“If this bill does pass, you’ll have the area superintendents meet to have a discussion and determine how this applies in a greater Athens area, meaning Athens County,” Springer said.

But Shaner knows this power would raise challenges from outside sources.

“Our organization always favors discretion at the local level to make the best decisions possible,” Shaner said. “But we think that there’s going to be pressure from a range of interests on those decisions that they would be making.”

Most notably, that concern exists in regard to athletics, due to a special provision within the bill: If a student does not graduate on time, they would be granted an additional year of athletic eligibility.

Would schools urge their star athletes to stick around for an extra year? Or would that inhibit fair access to playing time and valuable scholarships for current students?

Springer says there are mixed feelings, while Shaner reassures that most students in Ohio had no shortage of athletic opportunities for the past school year.

“They might have been pushed out to a different time, or maybe shortened, but there were athletics that occurred,” Shaner said. “So in most cases, it’s not as if the students actually missed out on being able to play sports.”

Though Shaner feels the committee has addressed her and her colleagues’ concerns, she believes there are better alternatives available to bring students up to speed.

“We just kind of feel that some of this is really unnecessary and there are already options there for kids,” Shaner said.

If the bill passes, students will have 30 days to petition their school districts for a spot in the program. Yet the start of next year is only a couple months away, and schools are already creating master schedules, considering employment and implementing resources.

“So if there is going to be an impact on next year, that really would need to be decided pretty quickly,” Shaner said.

The date of the bill’s next committee hearing is yet to be determined.