The Cherokee School Board approved limited open campus for sophomores and juniors at a July 17th meeting. This is the carrot part of a "carrot and stick policy" to encourage academic progress.
"My focus is on getting them to make progress toward graduation," Larry Hunecke, Washington High School principal, told the school board at the meeting.
The school board reviewed proposed changes to the handbooks, including a change in policies regarding open campus. The board also considered a proposal to change how class designation was defined but decided that this would only apply to the open campus policy.
Students are required to earn 48 credits to graduate from high school. In order to make regular progress toward graduation, a student should earn six credits per semester. Earning the new one-period-per-day open campus for sophomores and juniors or even the traditional all-day open campus for seniors will be dependent on adequate progress toward graduation.
To earn privileges as a sophomore, a student needs to have 12 credits. To retain the privileges, the student needs to have 18 credits at the start of the second semester of the sophomore year, 24 credits at the start of the junior year, and 30 credits at the start of the second semester of the junior year.
To earn privileges as a senior, a student needs to have earned 36 credits by the start of the first semester and 42 credits by the start of the second semester.
A proposal that was considered, but rejected, would have the class designations of sophomore, junior and senior be defined by the number of credits earned, rather than the time spent in high school. This would affect such activities as prom, homecoming and any activity in which students participate in groupings based on class level.
Not only would students be denied participation in activities because of insufficient progress, students who were at an accelerated rate of progress would receive privileges early. The possibility of gaining privileges early was the reason for not adopting a policy of defining class level by credits earned. Laura Dawson, board president, indicated she was not comfortable with the idea of second year students, traditionally defined as sophomores, participate as juniors in a prom.
Hunecke indicated that he would have no problem with using the number of credits to define privileges only for the new open campus policy rather than using them for a broader definition of who is a sophomore, junior or senior.
All schools base graduation eligibility on credits earned rather than on time spent in high school. Several years ago, a court case determined that an Iowa high school could not deny graduation to a student who had earned the minimum number of credits even though the student had not attended school for the number of semesters the school had tried to require.
Most years, there will be a few students graduate from WHS a semester early. More rarely, a student will graduate an entire year early.
Hunecke said at the meeting that each year, 1 to 3 students attend high school after their fourth year because they need more credits to graduate. There are also students who attend the alternative high school program. The alternative high school allows students, many of whom work full-time jobs, to progress toward graduation at their own rates.
Many students simply drop out when they don't have sufficient credits to graduate at the conclusion of four high school years, or when they realize it will be impossible to achieve that goal.
The new policy is aimed at getting and keeping students on track toward graduation, reducing the dropout rate.