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‘If I had known’: Administrative error threw five Burns High seniors off graduation track

In World
February 07, 2024

Feb. 6—CHEYENNE — “The school messed up.”

That was the text message Misty Jackson received last Thursday from her daughter, CharleMarie, who is a senior at Burns Junior/Senior High School.

Her daughter is one of five seniors who were told last week they were no longer on track to graduate in May because of a missing foreign language credit. Until a few days ago, these students were under the impression that a foreign language class was optional, not a necessary graduation requirement.

“If I had known she needed a Spanish class, I would have enrolled her in Spanish,” Jackson told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle this week.

Last August, the same high school seniors received a letter from the school telling them they were on track to graduate in May. At the time, none of the students were informed of the district’s graduation policy requiring a one-year foreign language credit, Jackson said.

Laramie County School District 2 Superintendent Justin Pierantoni said adjustments in graduation policy led to an oversight by school district administrators related to transcripts and credits earned by current high school seniors.

“During the time that our current senior class has been in high school, (the graduation policy has) changed at least once,” Pierantoni told the WTE on Tuesday. “Because of that, the expectation of the foreign language (credit) got muddied.”

According to a WTE review of district policies, a one-year foreign language credit has been required for graduation in LCSD2 since at least 2019. Previous policy language stated that Spanish — considered by the district as a world language course — is a class offered in seventh or eighth grade, but did not earn students graduation credit. A Spanish I class taken in grades 9 through 12 awarded graduation credit.

Revisions approved by the LCSD2 Board of Trustees on April 8, 2019, created a new requirement that stated a student needed to complete “1 school year in a district approved Foreign Language course” in order to graduate.

Although he wasn’t superintendent at the time, Pierantoni speculated this was a result of policy changes to qualify for Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship. Future revisions made by the board, he said, could either be a reflection of Hathaway Scholarship policy revisions or an attempt to move away from policy related to the scholarship.

Graduation policy regarding a foreign language requirement was last updated during a board meeting on March 13, 2023.

“High school aligned Foreign Language courses taken in grade eight can meet the 1 school year Foreign Language requirement and must be approved prior to enrollment by the district Superintendent. Credit associated with these courses will not be included in graduation credit requirements,” the new revision read in a double-asterisk next to the foreign language requirement.

Pierantoni said this policy covers two different concepts — one for LCSD2 graduation, and the other for qualifications and credits toward the Hathaway Scholarship.

A high school level Spanish class taken by a student in the eighth grade counts toward the Hathaway Scholarship, Pierantoni said, but it can’t be used as credit toward graduation in LCSD2.

“Unfortunately, we use the word ‘credits’ for both of them,” Pierantoni said. “This policy does sound like it contradicts itself.”

Jackson said the students are now being asked to take a 30-minute Spanish class during their flex period, a period generally used for getting help on homework or making up missed tests.

Pierantoni said this is one of many solutions being considered by the school district.

“But they’re asking these students to stand by a falsified transcript,” Jackson said.

She didn’t feel comfortable that a four-month-long Spanish course would substitute for a year-long credit.

“I’m not really OK with that, because now (the school district) is asking them to lie,” she said.

Pierantoni said an exemption request can also be considered, but it has to be approved by the school board. Burns High School Principal Bobby Dishman sent a letter to the LCSD2 school board on Feb. 2, requesting an exemption for the five seniors who haven’t met the foreign language graduation requirement.

“After a thorough review of transcripts and cross-referencing with the policy change from March 2023, it has come to our attention that there may have been an oversight in the application of these requirements,” Dishman wrote in the letter.

Should that request be denied, the principal assured board members there is “a contingency plan in place.”

“We have devised an alternative method for the students to fulfill their required Spanish credit to ensure they meet all graduation requirements,” Dishman wrote.

Meanwhile, Jackson and other parents are planning to present this issue before the Board of Trustees during their Committee of the Whole meeting in Pine Bluffs on Wednesday.

“I’m hoping that all of the parents involved, at least all five of the parents involved in this situation, will be there,” Jackson said.

Hannah Shields is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. She can be reached at 307-633-3167 or [email protected]. You can follow her on X @happyfeet004.

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