Schenectady County

Canceled class irks Duanesburg students

Carissa Baum, who plans to major in nursing at the SUNY Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome, is am

Carissa Baum wants the grade she was on track to get in organic chemistry, even though it will bring her cumulative grade-point average down by two points.

But the Duanesburg High School senior takes pride in the 80-point average she earned — a mark that was the lowest among her courses — before the advanced class was abruptly canceled last winter. She said the grade reflects the countless hours she spent studying, unlike the simple “P” for passing received by she and nine other students who were enrolled in the course.

“It matters to me that the effort I put into that class is reflected numerically,” she said.

Baum, who plans to major in nursing at the SUNY Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome, is among six students imploring the district’s Board of Education to give them the grades they earned in the class, rather than simply assigning them a passing mark. She was among four who attended the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, carrying neon signs urging them to listen to the “will of the people.”

“We want our grades back,” said Jacob Tanzman, another senior who was enrolled in the class.

The students were joined by classmates supporting their plight, some who criticized the board for tacitly supporting a decision made by the administration. Senior Derek Moore said many of his classmates are outraged over the treatment of the students, who were alerted of the class cancellation and grade changes suddenly in the middle of the school year.

“Not one person I’ve talked to is happy about the decision that was made,” he told the board.

Junior Mikayla Wolken said the action the administration took to hand out passing grades to the students instead of numerical grades could be precedent-setting for others at the school, including herself and her younger siblings. She fears if colleges and universities learn of this transgression, it could hamper her ability to get into the school of her choice.

“I don’t want something as simple and silly as this to prevent me from getting into college,” she said.

The debacle even drew the attention of an educator from outside the district. Elizabeth Nowiki, an attorney and law professor who owns property in Duanesburg, took up the cause of the students after hearing about their plight from an acquaintance. She even distributed a draft resolution to board members that would grant the request of the six students who wanted their grades back.

She also warned that failure to heed their request would inflame the matter even worse.

“It’s not sufficient to say ‘We voted on this and we’re done,’ ” she said. “They’re not going to give up.”

Board President Bob Fiorni said the decision to cancel the class and hand out passing grades to all the students was reviewed and upheld. He also disputed the assertion that the board had left any loose ends following its March decision.

“The situation has not lingered,” he said during the meeting. “We did what we were supposed to do in this situation.”

Students from the class and their parents are accusing the district of purposely manipulating the grades. Along with Brian Bliss — a professional chemist who volunteered time to assist with the class — they filed a nearly inch-thick complaint with the state Education Department in March, accusing district Superintendent Christine Crowley and high school Principal Beth Deluke of grade tampering.

Bliss, who helped chemistry teacher Cathleen Gordon instruct the class, accused the district of rigging the grades to ensure the son of a former school board member could maintain the grade-point average he needed to be among the top students in his class. Despite district assertions, he said none of the students he taught were failing the class when it was cancelled midway through the year.

“Everybody had a ‘C’ or better,” he said.

Crowley defended the decision to cancel the class, but offered little explanation. She said the decision was carefully deliberated and involved confidential information that is not subject to public review.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of information that I can only share with the board in executive session,” she said during the meeting. “You cannot tell the story without telling the whole story, and much of that information is confidential.”

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