Duanesburg High School students are upset that their advanced chemistry class has been canceled in the middle of the year.
On March 5, the Duanesburg Board of Education officially declared the organic chemistry class canceled as of Feb. 25; the nine students in the class were told they will receive a half-year credit and a mark of “pass” on their transcript but no numerical grade.
Jamie Peters said she and other students on Feb. 28 were informed of the cancellation by being pulled from their other classes to meet with Superintendent Christine Crowley and other school officials.
Peters said Crowley told them that she didn’t know the class was this difficult and it was being dissolved. The students were later called up for a follow-up meeting later in the day.
Peters said the school should not dangle opportunities such as this course and then suddenly rip them away.
Student Carissa Baum said that pressure to end the course had begun earlier. On Jan. 31, she was called down to the guidance counselor’s office and told that she could drop the class and not receive any penalty.
In another meeting, Baum says she was asked questions about teacher Cathleen Gordon’s methods.
“Every time I hear the phone ring during class, my heart stops because I feel we’ll be having another meeting with the administration,” she said.
Brian Bliss, who served as a volunteer to assist teacher Cathleen Gordon in the class, said these nine college-bound students should not be denied the opportunity to learn chemistry. “You also robbed a teacher in this district of professional development,” he said.
Student Jacob Tanzman said taking the class was an opportunity because Duanesburg doesn’t offer Advanced Placement science courses.
He, too, said students haven’t been given an adequate explanation of the reason the class was canceled. “We have been fed platitudes about ‘sometimes in life, things don’t turn out as you desire,’ ” he said.
Tanzman said students knew the class would be difficult before enrolling. Parents were required to sign a form that said the course would not be graded on a pass/fail basis but just like a normal class.
If students dropped the course before a certain date, there would be no record of it on the transcript.
Parent Jay Tanzman said his son received a low grade on a test. Tanzman said he contacted the teacher, who said his son wasn’t putting in the studying time. He believes the administration was dissatisfied with the low grades that were being given out in the course and wanted to pull the plug.
“We’re upset and we think that under the guise of confidentiality there’s more going on than meets the eye,” he said.
Parent Amiee Todd said the cancellation jeopardizes her daughter’s chances of obtaining scholarships. Her daughter was getting a B in the class, which she hoped would move her up in class ranking so she would have a shot at being class salutatorian.
A group of parents, including Todd, has filed a complaint with the New York State Education Department.
School Board of Trustees President Bob Fiorni told the public at its March 5 meeting that the board has asked the school administration all the questions that people have had about the class, but it cannot discuss the details to protect the confidentiality of staff and students. “This is not an attempt by any means to hide or bury any information,” he said.
Crowley said the course material was too advanced for high school students. Other teachers have told her that organic chemistry is a second-year college course. At the very least, she said, these students should have taken Advanced Placement chemistry, which the school doesn’t offer.
The curriculum for these courses should have been reviewed to make sure it was appropriate and not too difficult for students, according to Crowley. She said students were struggling and they and their parents started complaining to school officials that the work was too hard.
All students were passing the course at the end of the first semester, so Crowley said it was only fair to award a passing grade and a half-year credit.
New York State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said he could not confirm whether it has gotten the parents’ complaint.
“The department’s policy is not to comment on allegations that may have been received, unless they are verified through investigation,” he said.
An email message sent to Gordon was not returned.