CUSD opens pass/fail as option for struggling students

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Claremont Unified School District announced this week that students having difficulty with distance learning can ask to receive a “pass/fail” for this semester in lieu of traditional letter grades for students in seventh to 12th grades.

Students who would like to choose this option are required to complete and submit an online form that includes a signature from the student and parent requesting a pass or fail. The request can apply to students’ entire class loads or individual courses.

“Really where we’re coming from is our discussions have focused around the importance of learning, much more so than grades,” said CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser.

The district will announce further details on the pass/fail process via email later this week. Check www.cusd.claremont.edu for updates.

The shift comes as students are approaching the end of the highly unusual 2019-2020 school year. All CUSD schools were closed March 14 and students were shifted to online classes or “distance learning.”

Work had been optional up until April 14, when CUSD shifted to required distance learning and began issuing binding letter grades.

The edict prompted concern among some students, parents and caregivers that the added pressure of keeping up with schoolwork was too much to bear for some families. A petition posted mid-April on Change.org, “Make CUSD Schoolwork Optional Due to COVID-19 Pandemic,” had 2,641 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. The pass/fail option is a de facto olive branch to those signatories.

“We understand that distance learning is more difficult for some than others due to extenuating circumstances,” Mr. Elsasser said. “As we continued to have further discussion around this area, we came to the decision that while not eliminating grades completely, this could be an option that would benefit some students. This is an enhancement, I think. This is just a new option to help those who could find this beneficial.”

Meanwhile, the district is still on track to begin the 2020-2021 school year on September 2. What that will look like, like a lot of things these days, is yet to be determined.

“There are a lot of details that need to be worked out once we receive the updated guidelines form the LA county Public Health Department and the California Department of Education,” Mr. Elsasser said.

Cleaning CUSD facilities will most certainly be one critical aspect of the new normal. Another major factor will be social and physical distancing guidelines.

“That’s the big question: Will social distancing requirements limit the number of students we can have in a classroom?” Mr. Elsasser said. “Those are all things we’re waiting for guidance from the state so we can develop our own plans for our students.”

One thing is certain: if kids are back in classrooms this year, they and everyone on campus will be wearing protective masks.

“I’ve been told that everyone on campus will be required to wear masks when we return,” Mr. Elsasser said. “And of course we’ll follow the ever evolving guidelines from the LA County Public Health Department and California Department of Education.”

Mr. Elsasser offered encouragement in his May 4 letter to students and families.

“With only six weeks remaining in the 2019-2020 school year, I wish you all the best during this home stretch,” he wrote. “I would like to encourage all students to stay the course, stay engaged in your learning, and work with your teachers if you are struggling. Our goal is to continue to support you in any way possible to ensure your continued success.”

The complete letter can be viewed and downloaded by clicking on “Latest District Covid-19 Updates” at www.cusd.claremont.edu.

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