New California education bill could help ease stress of failing pandemic grades for high school students

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Kaelyn Savard

Changes made to the California Education Code in regards to the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020-21 school year account for the many academic setbacks that arose due to distant learning, specifically low grades.

Caroline Hubner and Nicole Stidham

The 2020-21 school year has made history with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting school districts and students worldwide. Specifically in California, one of the states hardest hit by the virus, the Senate has been making temporary amendments to the California Education Code to accommodate high school students who are struggling academically. The bill was split up into five sections and passed by a landslide on April 15, 2021 to go into effect immediately. 

Section 1 focuses on pupil retention. Students enrolled in grades K-12 or entering kindergarten in the 2020-21 school year could be held back to repeat their current grade level at the request of either the school district or the parents/guardians on or before June 15, 2021. However, a meeting must be set up with the student, the student’s parent/guardian and the student’s teacher to discuss the academic and social interests of the student. The final retention decision is required before July 15, 2021, and a state-mandated local program will be set up to help ease the new duties placed on the school districts. 

Section 2 focuses on newly implemented grade changes. With the rise of D and F grades among high school students throughout California, the bill would allow parents/guardians of a student, or the student themselves if they are 18 or older, to request their letter grade to be changed to Pass or No Pass on their transcript. The bill would also require California State Universities (CSU) to accept the altered transcripts and encourage the University of California (UC) and other private institutions to do the same. The Senate has limited authority over the UC schools, so therefore they cannot require them to accept the new transcripts. 

Section 3 explains the possibility of a fifth year of high school for high school juniors and seniors. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant setback in achievement in schools. This bill would allow parents the opportunity to have their student take an extra year of high school for students, “who are not on track to graduate in the 2020–21 or 2021–22 school year,” with school officials consent. Section 3 continues to describe that a fifth year of high school would be put into play by a, “state-mandated local program.” In addition to the opportunity of a fifth year of school, Section 3 also states that any classes taken beyond, “the statewide coursework requirement,” will not be required to graduate high school. 

Section 4 focuses on the costs of the bill for school districts. The state is required to reimburse school districts for state-mandated costs. Section 4 explains that if any of the actions previously explained in the bill cost anything to implement, the state is required to reimburse districts for these costs. 

Since the school year is coming to a close, Section 5 of the bill states that it will go into effect immediately after approval on April 15, 2021. Students will be graduating soon across the state and having this bill go into effect as soon as possible could prove to be impactful to many students’ education careers.

What do you think?