Senior release next on school board’s agenda

By Bryan Richardson

Following decisions to keep school start times the same and move sophomores to closed lunch starting next school year, the USD 383 school board is preparing to discuss Manhattan High senior early release.

The school board will hold a hearing at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Robinson Education Center to give the community an opportunity to speak to the board about that topic.

At the school board’s winter retreat in February, board members suggested having certain criteria in place for students to be released from taking a full schedule of classes during the second semester of their senior year if theyare on track to graduate anyway. The criteria might include students taking on-campus college classes or working.

Current policy states that MHS seniors, with parent approval, have the option of not taking first and second periods, sixth and seventh periods, or first and seventh periods during the second semester if they would still be on track for graduation.

Board president Dave Colburn said early release falls a bit under the radar for him. “Of all the things we’re discussing, I’ve put the least amount of thought into this,” he said.

That might be because Colburn doesn’t have any big issues with the current path of early release, although he might be open to some restrictions. “I don’t think there are any real problems there,” he said.

For the 2011-12 school year, MHS had 120 seniors doing some form of late arrival or early release, representing more than one-fourth of the approximately 400 MHS seniors who graduated in May. The majority of them – 100 seniors – chose not to take sixth and seventh period.

Colburn said some of the concern in the past has been about how the practice affects class sizes. He said he’ll need to see data and get administrative opinions, but he doesn’t think early release drastically impacts classes.

“My sense is when you take the number of students involved and spread it across all the classes we offer, it’s not like we’ll have half-full classrooms,” Colburn said.

But Colburn acknowledged that multiple board members have brought the up over the years. Board member Walt Pesaresi might be the strongest voice for policy change.

“I just think something is wrong with us educationally to spend $40 million on a beautiful building and letting seniors out two hours early,” he said, alluding to the recent construction and renovation project at the high school.

Pesaresi said he might agree to releasing students to take college courses on campus or working five days a week during the afternoon.  If those requirements aren’t met, Pesaresi said the seniors should stay all seven periods and perhaps take a life-skill class. “I’m sure there’s something we can teach these kids leaving early if they’re not taking college classes,” he said. “This is their last time with us.”

Board member Leah Fliter said “at this point,” she has seen no indication that a policy change is needed.

Fliter said she would be interested in seeing whether data supports the theory that students would benefit by being kept in class in order to take electives. “I don’t know if we have a lot of evidence at this point to show us that,” she said.

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