The California school board was reluctant to open up school-sponsored extracurricular activities to home-schooled children during a Dec. 14 meeting.
The topic was one of many on the agenda for the California R-I Board of Education to discuss. The board also heard comments from the senior class about moving graduation indoors; discussed a new esport program at California Middle School; and approved an option for a replacement heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at California Elementary School. Recognitions and a program review about essay contests were also presented.
Kelly Dansby, a home-schooling parent, opened discussion on extracurricular activities by asking the board to amend district policy so home-school students can participate in school-sponsored activities sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Athletics Association (MSHSAA). She said school-sponsored activities are the only option for children in the community aside from recreational leagues hosted by the California Park Department.
Dansby asked for the board to specifically amend policy IGCE-1 to include home-schooling as a definition for non-traditional students. Home-school students would fall under option two for non-traditional students in MSHSAA by-laws, which refers to students with a combination of in-seat and non-transcripted credits. She said other guidelines and policies listed under the agenda item in BoardDocs, such as policy IGD-AP(3), mention home-schooled students although they are omitted from policy IGCE-1.
Section 2.3.4 of the MSHSAA by-laws indicates home-schooled students must take a "minimum of two credit-bearing, seat-time classes for a minimum of 1.0 units of credit at the high school" and "high school administration confirms after a full academic review that the students is further enrolled in courses taken outside of the school which bring the student up to the academic credit requirements outlined in By-Law 2.3.2." By-Law 2.3.2 establishes MSHSAA's grade eligibility requirements, which states a student must be "enrolled in and regularly attending courses that offer 3.0 units of credit or 80 (percent) of the maximum allowable credits which may be earned, whichever is greater ..." and must have received a minimum of 3 units of credit or at least 80 percent of their classes in the previous semester. Based on California's seven-period day, students must pass six of their seven classes to be eligible for MSHSAA-sanctioned activities.
The requirements were also found in a district document titled "Guidelines for Non-Traditional Students who Desire Eligibility to Participate in MSHSAA Activities/Athletics," which was adopted by the board in November 2018 and linked on the middle and high school websites. The document also said "the building principal or designee will review past classes, academic history, credits, logs, attendance, transcripts, etc. to determine 'prior semester' credit earned to determine eligibility status," and "the building principal or designee will review current semester classes enrolled in to approve and validate 'outside' courses/credits are sufficient in allowing the non-traditional student to meet the 80 (percent) rule."
Being able to confirm a home-schooled student's eligibility based on their academic performance was a major point of contention between the board and home-schooling parents present at the meeting.
Dansby said home-schooling parents must log 1,000 hours per year from July 1-June 30. She said 600 of the hours are for core subjects, with 400 core hours being in-home instruction. The remaining 400 hours are for elective subjects. She also said Missouri doesn't require parents to submit the logs, but logs must be maintained in case of an audit.
"In our meeting with (Superintendent Daniel Williams), he raised the concern that the district can't hold home-school kids accountable academically, but actually, home-school law, you have to record 1,000 hours of instruction every year," Dansby said. "So you have to keep logs, grade books, coursework, and curriculum. It's extensive, and so that's easily given for the board or whoever to review and you can easily see the progress that's being made."
Brandy Brockes, board member, countered by asking about times where parents may not be as accountable.
"I think a lot of times we ask ourselves 'If all you have to do is record hours and you don't have accountability for the grades, how do we hold them accountable to keep those certain grades up,'" she asked. "I think all of you guys are probably fantastic, but what if there is a family that doesn't?"
Dansby said the proof can be found in the logs -- or the lack thereof.
"Any home-school parent that is doing all that recording, actually doing it since we don't have to turn it in, (and) there will be those people that don't record that stuff, and when they're asked to give that evidence, they won't have it and that answers your problem right there," she said. "They can't produce it, whereas the ... majority of home-school families are incredibly intentional and I think you'll just look at (the logs)."
Williams expressed concern that the school still wouldn't be able to validate the student's achievements, despite the logs.
"How do we validate what the child has done ... independently," Williams asked. "Because that is a concern. We know if a student is here in class and takes a test."
Discussion centering on validating students' accomplishments and eligibility for MSHSAA-sanctioned activities continued, with the home-schooling parents continuing claims that falsifying logs and abusing the policy would be difficult.
Board President Derek VanLoo countered by presenting a hypothetical situation, expressing his primary concern about the issue.
"In my mind, the thing that bothers me is if we include the word 'home-school' in our policy, what about the parent that wants to abuse this policy?" he asked. "Is there a chance that 'OK, they're going to do five hours at home and we're going to make that stuff up?' The parent is, and the child's gonna go along with it, and the two classes in-seat are going to be weightlifting and (physical education). So we've got those things covered. Is there a chance that we've got a policy in place that can easily be abused by a parent and a child?"
The board did not take any actions on the topic and said it would continue discussion regarding it.
The board recognized four groups early in its meeting.
First, the board recognized Isabella Kincaid and Lauren Friedrich, who were both named to the All-State volleyball team.
The board then recognized Jamie Johnson, a Student Council adviser at California High School. Johnson received the Advisor of the Year award for the northeast region by the Missouri Association of Student Councils.
The California FFA trapshooting team also received recognition after California High School Principal Jeff West received a letter from Vern McGaffic, trap and skeet committee chairman for the United Sportsmen's Club in Jefferson City. In his letter, McGaffic commended the behavior of California's participants in the regional FFA trapshooting event held Nov. 10, which was organized by Gary Reichel, a California FFA sponsor.
The board also thanked the Bookworm Quilters for their assistance in hemming choir dresses. According to the BoardDocs entry, the group hemmed 16 dresses in one day at no charge.
During the public comments section of the meeting, three California High School seniors presented various reasons their graduation ceremony should be held indoors.
The students said an indoor graduation ceremony would be easier for setup and support staff, provide a better experience for visitors and would be better for choir and band performances. Moving the ceremony indoors would also make for better photographs and reduction of technical issues.
The group has already received support from the rest of its class, class sponsors, administration, music department teachers, Student Council advisers and others.
The board agreed to move the 2023 graduation ceremony indoors.
Middle school esports
California Middle School students will have another option for after-school extracurricular activities in the spring semester. Derek Scroggins, middle school principal, briefly discussed the new esports program at the meeting.
"Basically, (Kenny Goans, middle school assistant principal) and I were just trying to figure out ways to get more kids involved," Scroggins said. "... We looked at it and figured about 13 to 20 percent of our kids are the only ones really having an opportunity to do stuff through the school."
Scroggins said esports is a growing field where students can get scholarships. He also said the club would allow fifth- and sixth-grades to participate, whereas only seventh- and eighth-grades can participate in MSHSAA-sanctioned sporting events.
Unlike traditional esports programs, Scroggins said the middle school esports program would be centered around the Nintendo Switch console, instead of games based on a server or a personal computer. The console is easier to use and has a more controllable environment, limiting access to inappropriate content such as chat sessions that may contain vulgarity.
Scroggins said he reached out to Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, who originally contacted area schools about starting esports programs. Co-Mo responded by donating four Nintendo Switch consoles, a 50-inch television and a cart to California Middle School for the program. Each console can support up to four players. Co-Mo also donated four copies of games to play on the consoles.
Scroggins said the new program would meet after school at the same time homework help is offered, from 3:10-4:10 p.m. Monday-Thursday. He said the time would be split between grade levels, depending on the amount of interest from students. He added the program will be piloted in January.
West said there are no plans for a high school esports program at the moment due to a lack of interest from faculty and staff in sponsoring it.
Dana Barr, an English and public speaking instructor at California High School, presented a brief program spotlight on two essay contests her students participate in.
In the Voice of Democracy contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), students write an essay over a given topic or prompt. Barr said the project consists of the five steps of the writing process, with the final product being either a recorded or live vocal delivery. The project is assigned in early- to mid-September and students are given five to seven days in-class to work on it. She said Isabelle Rohrbach and Emma Russell previously won $200 and $150 respectively for placing first and second in the contest. The duo also got to present their essays at a dinner at the local VFW post, along with Rohrbach presenting her essay at the school's Veterans Day assembly.
The other contest, sponsored by Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, boasts an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's Youth Tour. Barr said only one student from a district will be awarded with a tour, with two others being selected for a separate July trip to the Cooperative Youth Conference and Leadership Experience (CYCLE) in Jefferson City. Barr said juniors will work on the project from August or September, when a Co-Mo representative introduces it, to late October, when electronic submissions are due.
Barr said two California High School students -- Collin Althoff and Dillon Wood -- were selected for the June 2023 trip to Washington. She said Co-Mo added an additional paid trip for the Youth Tour, which would be awarded to the highest-ranking contestant after one student from each district was awarded.
"... (Y)ou probably know (Althoff, Wood and Chase Schlup) in the community, they're involved, they do things, but sometimes it isn't like that," Barr said. "And that's why I love this project. I mean, I love that those three won because they put a lot of work into it, but sometimes I get somebody who's like an underdog and it's like the only thing they've done in high school that they're recognized for, and those kids love it. And I love it for them."
In other business:
• The board heard and approved the 2021-22 audit from Evers & Co. LLC certified public accountants.
• The board approved a bid for the SafeDefend system, which will further enhance security throughout the district. The system consists of biometrically-operated safes, which will include defensive measures, trauma/first-aid kits and other items to assist faculty and staff in the event of an active shooter situation. The safes will also automatically notify all district employees and local and state law enforcement when operated. Installation is scheduled to happen in summer 2023, with faculty and staff trained on the system prior to the 2023-24 school year.
• The board first-read a revised version of policy ACA, which refers to reporting sexual harassment under Title IX.
• Assistant Superintendent Matt Abernathy discussed repairs to the high school, which fixed a leak that has been an issue since the building was constructed in 1993. He also provided an update on the transition to a new phone system by Verizon, which would introduce many new features at the schools. Callers will be able to leave voicemails, which can automatically be forwarded to an email address. Abernathy said the installation is a "single-day roll-over process," which means the current phone system will still function until the new system is ready for operation. The new phone system is expected to be installed by Jan. 4 and he anticipates a savings of $200 per month over the previous provider after initial payments are made.
• Williams discussed a Nichols Career Center visit. He also discussed early developments in the Tri-County Conference after Versailles decided to leave the conference at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.
• The board donated the current bleachers at the high school baseball/softball field to the City of California Park Department for use at Cargill fields. The board previously ordered new bleachers because the school's liability insurance would no longer cover the current bleachers.
• The board approved the purchase of a new HVAC system at California Elementary School, which will replace a problematic aging unit at the school.
The California R-I Board of Education will next meet at 6 p.m. Jan. 18 in the California High School media center.