Lynn Public Schools cancel April vacation, waive graduation requirements

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LYNN — The Lynn School Committee has voted to waive graduation credit requirements this year for seniors who have already completed their core courses and passed the MCAS test. 

The School Committee unanimously approved the request from Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler last Thursday, which he made due to the continued impact the coronavirus is having on education.

The city’s public schools have been ordered closed since mid-March and although they’re slated to reopen on May 4, Tutwiler said it’s likely they will remain shut down until the fall. 

According to the School Committee graduation policy, seniors are required to earn 100 credits to graduate and 25 credits per year to advance to the next grade, said Tutwiler. 

Last week’s decision to waive the policy impacts about 130 seniors, Tutwiler said.

“There are scenarios where students have satisfied their core academic requirements but do not have the credits to graduate,” said Tutwiler. “The impact of waiving the requirement this year would be profound. It would relieve a number of seniors of the anxiety of waiting to determine a path to retain the remaining credits.” 

The decision does not impact core academic requirements, but will allow students who have completed their core courses and passed the 10th grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test to graduate this year, Tutwiler said. 

It will also allow school administrators to focus on seniors who have not completed their core courses, Tutwiler said, which includes providing those students with computers to meet those academic requirements. 

Although School Committee members were supportive of the request, committee member Michael Satterwhite was concerned that waiving the policy would make some seniors look less attractive to prospective colleges, as their high school transcript would show they were short on credits. 

“I want to make sure it’s not going to look bad for students who are accepted,” said Satterwhite. “We have more than 1,000 seniors graduating. One hundred and thirty seems like a large number.” 

However, Tutwiler said the practice is not uncommon. When he was a high school principal, he waived graduation requirements often and never found that it impacted college acceptances. 

The decision is impacting seniors who would otherwise be utilizing a credit recovery option or taking summer school courses to obtain the necessary credits, said Tutwiler. 

Requiring those students to exercise those options to complete their elective courses doesn’t seem necessary as their education has already been so heavily impacted by the virus this year, he said. 

But Tutwiler said he would write a letter for seniors to include in their portfolios if college administrators need an explanation for why the decision was made. 

Committee member John Ford said he agreed with the decision to suspend credit requirements for seniors.

“I think in the case of the pandemic, we’ve disrupted the lives of our seniors quite a bit enough and they’ve given up a lot in their senior year,” said Ford. “I think it’s time we do something to make it a little easier.” 

The School Committee also unanimously approved two other intertwined requests from Tutwiler, which were to cancel April vacation and move up the last day of school from June 24 to June 18. 

Tutwiler said the school district was settling into a routine with reaching out to families and providing resources such as online academic enrichment materials and meals. 

As the district plans to roll out its second phase of remote learning on April 27, the superintendent said the district did not want to disrupt that rhythm with a week-long break for students and staff. Tutwiler said teachers were largely in favor of the decision to cancel April vacation, with 85 percent of staff surveyed indicating their approval. 

“The prospect of continuing to provide services and outreach throughout April vacation was raised and seems sensible,” said Tutwiler. “The break in continuity could prove to be detrimental.” 

Committee member Brian Castellanos was supportive of the decision, saying that he did not want to see the momentum cut in half for students and families who were developing a routine with remote learning materials. 

“It’s important to keep these kids learning as much as possible (and keep) them in that solid routine to get them fully going,” said Castellanos. 

Committee member Jared Nicholson said the decision to move up the last day of school made “perfect sense,” but he wanted to ensure the district’s plan for remote learning keeps kids learning throughout the summer as well. 

“We’re going to be facing such a backlog of gaps in learning when we come back in the fall,” said Nicholson. “I hope that even though we’re ending the school year earlier than scheduled, we’re planning to continue that momentum and (we’re) putting those resources out there so students and families who have created those routines around learning remotely and learning asynchronously can continue that in the summer.”

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