The Charles County school board voted last week to continue the suspension of some policies, and in doing so will allow students to earn at least some credit for failing grades as many struggle to learn in a completely virtual environment.

At the Feb. 9 meeting, Eric Schwartz, staff attorney, told the board the superintendent is requesting to continue the suspension of a number of board policies as impacts from the pandemic drag on, including the one which prohibits students from being assigned minimum grades in most cases.

Amy Hollstein, deputy superintendent, said during an earlier meeting she had asked for a one-time suspension of the grading policy to allow for the adjustment of a failing grade to a 50% instead of 0%. This will help boost a student’s GPA and could ultimately help keep the student from failing a course or grade level.

“Being that we are now this far into still having schools just virtual and with this ever-changing landscape that we’re dealing with” during the COVID-19 crisis, “we feel that nothing has changed significantly,” Hollstein said.

She pointed out school teachers and administrators continue to see some students not thriving in the virtual setting. However, that “has nothing to do with a lack of effort from our [school] staff,” who, Hollstein mentioned, have been doing “phenomenal work” throughout the pandemic.

“It’s heartbreaking for me to get emails from teachers who felt so discouraged by some of the comments that were made in the political climate saying that schools have failed. … We have not failed,” she claimed. “But we can’t deny there are a group of students who are facing challenges that are not their fault. … We need to bring them back with the mathematical hope to pass.”

“The data does not look good. Currently we have 18,804 failing grades for the second quarter. Those aren’t students, those are grades,” she said. “Compared to 6,700 failing grades last year. The number of failures have tripled.”

Student failures continue to be a great concern not exclusive to Charles County. According to documents provided at the meeting, across Maryland many school districts are continuing to suspend grading policies, especially in light of the fact that most do not have children back in classrooms.

In an informal survey of the 24 school districts in the state, of those who responded, Calvert, Kent, Hartford, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Baltimore city, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Somerset have all adjusted policies this school year.

Ian Herd, student member of the board, pointed out the importance of making decisions with empathy.

“Anyone here who can tell themselves the tripling is not due to COVID, I think is fooling themselves,” he said. “The question is should these students be held accountable for something they couldn’t control … something that has effected their mental health unlike anything else.”

The board also approved suspending the policy involving academic eligibility to participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities this spring.

Marvin Jones, executive director of schools, shared with the board that the request to continue the suspension of this policy is based on the same reasons they are asking to continue the suspension of the grading policy.

“We are very concerned when we get to the point of bringing students back … this opportunity may not be afforded to many of those who, under different circumstances, would be permitted to participate,” he said.

Support for mental health included

Later in the meeting, the school board approved the superintendent’s proposed $413,578,960 operating budget for fiscal 2022.

Karen Acton, assistant superintendent of fiscal services, said after the board addressed the inclusion of mental health resources in the budget at an earlier meeting, revisions were made to include 12 new full-time positions for school counselors and psychologists, totaling $1.3 million, and another $80,000 was put toward focusing on staff mental health and professional development.

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Twitter: @MadisonSoMdNews