Canceled class feud may spur change
DUANESBURG Duanesburg’s school board is codifying the process of introducing new curriculum to the district following the uproar caused after an organic chemistry class taught at the high school was abruptly canceled by administrators last winter.
The new policy being discussed by the board would put into writing the process that is normally followed by the district, said High School Principal Beth DeLuke. Primarily, the process involves developing programs from the departmental level and then having them approved by both the principal and superintendent before getting sent to the district’s Board of Education.
“It really is just putting into writing what we had already been doing,” she said.
In the case of the organic chemistry class, DeLuke said the curriculum was developed as an independent study program that began in January and only met once a week. She said Superintendent Christine Crowley brought the class before the board in August and it was approved for the start of school in September, which didn’t give the school much time to ensure the course work was appropriate for students.
“There could have been a better way to process it and have more of the groundwork laid,” she said Monday.
Attempts to reach school board President Bob Fiorini and Crowley were unsuccessful Monday.
Last month, Crowley released a statement saying the decision to scrap the class and give all of the enrolled students a grade of passing was reached after it became clear the curriculum was too advanced. She said a review of the curriculum was launched in consultation with the state Department of Education after some of the students and their parents raised concerns about the difficultly level of the course in January.
“We intended to offer the course as a higher-level, in-depth honors high school class, not as a college-level class,” she said in the news release. “Offering a college-level course in high school requires that a designated college approve both the teacher and the curriculum content, but neither had occurred.”
But this narrative continues to be disputed by students, parents and the course instructors. Some accused the district of purposely manipulating the grades, an accusation that was lodged in a nearly inch-thick complaint with the state Education Department in March.
The complaint claims Crowley and DeLuke ended the course and gave a passing grade to all students to ensure the son of a former school board member could maintain the grade-point average he needed to be among the top students in his class. Brian Bliss, a professional chemist who assisted with the class as a volunteer, indicated none of the students was failing the course when the district moved to cancel it.
Six of the 10 students enrolled in the class and their parents have waged a so-far unsuccessful campaign to have their letter grades restored. Many of them turned out to the school board’s meetings this month and in May demanding an explanation from the district.
Rita Peters, whose daughter Jamie took the course, said the board finally apologized for how the issue was handled and promised to make changes in their policies to prevent such issues in the future. She said the apology wasn’t the end she and many others were seeking, but at least it showed a degree of recognition from the board.
“It’s not the outcome we had fought for all this time,” she said, “but it was at least acknowledgement.”
The issue also resulted in DeLuke — a veteran administrator of 20 years with the district — taking her retirement a year earlier than initially planned. DeLuke stressed she hadn’t been asked to resign, but was left rattled by the accusations she faced over the class.
“I absolutely was stressed by what happened,” she said. “I did not tamper with grades and I did not ask the teacher to tamper with grades.”