In this file photo, the Kern High School District Board of Trustees listens to public comments.

The Kern High School District trustees did not make a formal decision on the future of graduation ceremonies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but tasked administrators with planning for the events scheduled for later this month.

The board also approved Monday continuing with a pass/no-pass grading system but with the caveat that a GPA bump be awarded to students in advanced placement and honors courses.

Superintendent Bryon Schaefer said it's clear students don't want virtual graduation ceremonies during a time where traditional ceremonies — and the large gatherings that come with them — appear to be out of the cards. As a result, he said administrators are exploring alternative ways to hold a graduation, if one is allowed, with safety measures in place.

As of Monday, the district was 23 days away from its first graduation, which is scheduled for May 27. The biggest obstacle, Schaefer said, is how to accommodate a large number of attendees.

Trustees threw out several options, such as ones limited to just students or allowing a certain number of guests per graduate.

"This world that we’ve been living in here the last couple months seems to change every week," said Trustee Joey O'Connell. "I would hate to abandon the idea of graduations and have the world change and we missed the opportunity to host them."

As California begins loosening coronavirus restrictions, the board decided to reconvene the week of May 18 to discuss whether ceremonies would be possible. Trustee Cynthia Brakeman said a detailed plan of how schools will distance guests and if they will provide masks needs to be available.

"I don’t want to be the school district that gets called on the carpet because we’ve had an uptick in the number of cases of the virus and deaths," she said.

The district's grading system was also a topic of conversation at the meeting. On April 20, KHSD announced it would adopt a pass/no-pass grading system for the remainder of the spring semester and upcoming summer session. For the spring semester, a student would “pass” if they had an A, B, C or D letter grade for the third quarter at the time of school closures. A student who had an F grade would have an opportunity to raise their grade during the fourth quarter.

The guidelines were implemented to ensure equitable grading for all students and are in accordance with guidance provided by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the district said.

Emmanuel Mourtzanos, a Bakersfield College administrator and Stockdale High School parent, wrote a letter requesting the board adopt a policy giving students the opportunity to select the grading system that produces the most desirable outcome for them.

While he supports efforts to create equitable outcomes for all students, "Equitable outcomes for some students through the adoption of a pass/no-pass system will create inequity for others, which of course is no equity at all," stated his public comments, which were read by Schaefer.

For example, a college applicant from another high school district, where letter grades remain in place, would see a GPA increase from their spring and summer courses. In turn, they would have a higher college application status than KHSD students receiving a pass/no-pass grade.

"Students have worked tirelessly to achieve competitive GPAs to strategically position their college applications," his comments read.

He asked if Los Angeles Unified and Porterville Unified school districts could implement a hold-harmless system, why couldn't KHSD do the same?

Other parent and student comments on the topic were read by Schaefer. Some parents said it's not fair that their A student should get the same grade as a D student, while others agreed with the pass/no-pass system. Individuals explained learning from home has been difficult and low grades they would receive this semester would adversely affect future college applications.

Brenda Lewis, associate superintendent of instruction, explained the district was exploring an option to add the GPA bump, that students enrolled in advanced placement and honors courses would normally receive with a letter grade, to "pass" grades. 

Trustees agreed with that option, saying it would give those students in advanced classes the GPA boost they were hoping for, while also not penalizing students if their grades fall during distance learning.

"All along we’ve tried to do what’s best for the students, what's best for teachers, what alleviates the most stress and gives everyone an equal opportunity," O'Connell said. "If we have an opportunity here to help, I think we aught to take it."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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