Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Louisiana board plans to implement rejected graduation appeals process

by BIZ Magazine
three girls in graduation gowns hold their caps in the air

(The Center Square) — Despite opposition from the incoming administration, as well as many lawmakers, parents and the state superintendent, some members of the State Board of Education are forging ahead with a controversial graduation policy.

Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Holly Boffy held a news conference on Monday alongside several public school teachers, administrators, and students to announce she plans to implement a controversial graduation appeals process on Dec. 20.

The process would allow students who repeatedly fail state standardized tests to complete a project or portfolio to earn a diploma that’s counted toward their school’s accountability rating score. Statewide, just over a third of Louisiana public high school students perform on grade level, yet 70% of schools are rated A or B.

Boffy and her supporters, including fellow Democratic board member Belinda Davis, pointed to numerous students as examples of those who master coursework and earn industry credentials but are blocked from graduation because they repeatedly fail state standardized tests.

Several noted that Louisiana is only one of eight states that require students to pass the tests to earn a diploma and the only state that does not provide an appeals process.

“The important thing about this policy is it’s intended to create opportunities for students in our state,” Boffy said.

The press conference followed a letter to schools from Boffy on Wednesday that the state would institute the appeals policy immediately, using an emergency authority to “prevent imminent peril to the welfare of students.”

That letter prompted Republican Superintendent Cade Brumley to issue another letter to schools suggesting they “disregard this erroneous measure” because Boffy’s authority to issue an emergency rule requires him to define the emergency, which he did not.

Governor-elect Jeff Landry, incoming and returning BESE members, and numerous lawmakers have vowed to immediately repeal the appeals process if implemented, noting it defies the state’s focus on improving standards and could hurt the students who need help the most. The House Education Committee held an oversight hearing and rejected the rule in an 8-3 vote in October.

“Now is not the time, in my opinion, to think about lowering the bar,” Brumley said at the October hearing. “I just don’t think this is the right approach.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards has publicly supported the rule but has declined to discuss the matter with the media.

House Education Committee Chairman Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, who won a BESE seat in the recent elections, said in October that forging ahead with the policy would “create confusion in schools for two to three months,” as it’s clearly “on the pathway to being overturned” when new lawmakers and BESE members are seated.

If put into effect, he told The Center Square, “BESE would take up a new notice of intent to reverse that decision” in January.

“I haven’t found anybody in the Legislature that’s really for it,” he said.

On Monday, Boffy withdrew her emergency rule and set Dec. 20 as the implementation date, urging her supporters to contact lawmakers to advocate for a more permanent policy.

“I believe we should see it in state statute,” she said.

While Republicans who generally oppose the change expanded their supermajority in both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature during the recent elections, some Democrats have also taken offense to Boffy’s attempt to push through the change.

State Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, called out her attempt to impose the policy through emergency powers as “a gross and egregious breach of authority” in a post to X on Thursday.

“This unilateral action is inexcusable and unacceptable and a severe disservice to our students,” he wrote.

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