A 13-year-old viola prodigy may not have to take an art class, and their friend, the track-and-field star, might skip gym, but electives for most middle-school students are here to stay after a Utah Board of Education vote Wednesday.
The board’s decision culminates months of debate over whether, and how much, the state should require students in seventh and eighth grades to complete courses outside the core subjects of math, English, science and history.
Back in August, board members voted to make arts, health and physical education optional, but a public backlash prompted them to pull back and rethink that plan. Some board members continued to push for school districts to be empowered to set course requirements and for greater deference to parents seeking special accommodations.
“I see so many problems with the amount of things we’re requiring that strip away flexibility for people to chart their own course,” Alisa Ellis, the school board vice-chairwoman, said.
The new policy maintains the requirement that students participate in health, gym and arts classes, while eliminating minimum credit hours. Instead it mandates completion of “a course” in each subject.
Students can also substitute the required courses with private lessons, extra-curricular activities, such as sports, or other experiences that are similar in content, subject to parental approval and school district rules.
The board’s policy also requires school districts to offer an appellate process for student’s whose substitution requests are denied.
“It’s a win-win to me,” said board member Jennifer Graviet. “It allows a well-rounded education and it increases the flexibility.”
The changes were approved in a 12-3 vote, with Ellis and board members Michelle Boulter and Joel Wright in opposition.
Ellis said the policy does not go far enough to allow individualized education, while Boulter objected to language that she perceived as limiting the role of parents in requesting substitute course credit.
“I am not prepared to continually strip away parental rights,” Boulter said. “It’s just not happening.”