An open letter to the USD 257 board of education

Allie Utley , Editor

The handbook distributed at the beginning of the school year reads, “All students will be required to take a final exam each semester in each of their classes. However, a student will have the option of being exempt from taking the Final Exam in each class if they meet all the exemption criteria.” The shortcoming of this policy is that the exemption criteria is arbitrary and unrealistic.

The “exemption criteria” the handbook refers to is the requirement that students have a grade above a 70 percent and miss no more than three class periods, excused or unexcused. Teachers can regulate a higher standard for their own classroom if they wish to. In my own experience, most teachers follow the basic criteria in the handbook. I feel that this blanket policy does not fairly address student needs. Board members of USD 257 need to consider the idea that some excuses are perhaps better than others, and that the policy needs to be changed and/or altered.

There have been various important events going on in students’ personal lives that they should not be punished for attending. One student at Iola High School had a sibling born during the night.

This student faced a quandary to wait several hours after the birth to even see the child, due to her not wanting to miss her morning classes and lose her opportunity of exemption. This rule imprudently took this individual away from her legitimate family time.

Another student was recently injured while walking to the Bowlus and suffered a blow to the head. She was not taken to the hospital, but left the premises due to a migraine resulting from the injury. The student ended up missing an entire class period. According to the finals’ policy, this unfortunate event also counted against her.

It seems that many students run into the issue of being sick, but are unable to see a doctor to get an official doctor’s note. With roughly 60 percent of Iola students in the free or reduced lunch program, it makes sense that several students cannot afford to see a doctor to be properly examined. If students are unable to pay a fee of $20.00 a week for food, how are they going to be able to seek medical treatment?

A personal attachment I have to this rule is when I joined other select few students along with Thrive Allen County to attend a public healthcare rally in support of KanCare, a form of Medicaid. This bill would aid over 150,000 people statewide, and benefit more than 400 working Allen County residents. KanCare would help the remaining 9 percent of the people in our own community who are unable to get healthcare and fall within the wage gap to get proper medical assistance. We all felt that the least we could do, as students who are still unable to vote, was to help this bill get passed by showing up and voicing our support. It is in these types of scenarios that we, as a school district, need to be looking into specifics. We should not penalize students by making them fit into a black or white rule; instead, we need to be acknowledging the reality that there are gray areas where zero-tolerance policies are being unfairly forced upon students. One size does not fit all.

A simple solution to this problem would be letting our own principal or superintendent decide for himself if these events should be excused from finals or not. We need to leave it to our district and school leaders to differentiate between someone who wants to get her nails done during school hours and someone who wants to see his or her newborn brother. We should be considering the fact that students might actually have personal lives outside of school, and sometimes they need to attend to more important matters.