After an hour and half of at times confusing and contentious back and forth, the Craven County Board of Education failed to reach a decision Tuesday on a plan to address the fate of the county’s 2020 high school graduating class.


During a special called meeting held via conference call, Craven County Schools Superintendent Meghan Doyle told the board that school officials were originally considering a number of different options for area seniors, including:


- Ask the Craven BOE to waive its current graduation policy and allow all students who were eligible to graduate with the required 22 credits as of March 13 to take the option to pass. Any seniors who were not passing as of March 13 would be allowed to continue working to achieve a passing grade by June 10.


-Allow students to have their most recent grades factored into their current GPA if it was above the grade they had as of March 13.


Since developing those options, however, the North Carolina Board of Education unanimously approved changes from state Department of Public Instruction administrators to simply grade high school seniors based on their performance in classes as of March 13 — the last day before schools were closed due to COVID-19.


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Under the state plan, seniors will receive a pass or fail grade as opposed to the traditional letter grading. Students who have a failing grade will be required to take additional remote learning courses or attend summer school to help them pass.


“This took away the option that we had intended to present to the board that allowed students to continue their GPA through the end of the school year,” said Doyle. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to make choices. There may be students who want to improve their GPA as reported on their final transcript.”


Doyle presented the Board with two options: adopt a resolution asking the State Board for the flexibility to adopt new guidelines, or continue as the State Board has indicated.


If the Craven BOE asked for and received flexibility for students to keep working to improve their grades for the final semester, they could continue doing school work until June 10, said Doyle.


“I know there has been some discussion regarding equity and we want to provide every opportunity for our students to be successful. It's a way to give some students some control during a time when there’s very little control for our parents and students,” said Doyle.


Board member Francis Boomer said she was against asking the state BOE for flexibility on the county’s graduation plan. Boomer said she was concerned that students who sought to improve their GPAs may seek outside help such as tutors, while other students wouldn’t be able to afford those resources.


“Right now they are on level ground, and now we want to present a resolution to the state, when they’ve already decided what is best for the students in North Carolina? I think we should go along with what the state has already set for everybody,” said Boomer.


Doyle pointed out that asking the State Board for flexibility would give the approximately 150-200 students who were not passing as of March 13 the opportunity to improve their grades before the end of the school year. She said she believed many students would choose to receive a letter grade over a pass-fail mark.


“There have been some that have worked so hard on their GPA and they are going to want a grade, and they’ve earned the right to have a grade, to graduate at the top of their class; they won’t be happy settling. There’s a small group of students who are happy settling, and I understand -- but there's a small percentage of those who will choose to get the grade and do the extra work,” she commented.


Doyle said she had received support from three high school principals who are in favor of choice for students. She said Craven County Schools is continuing to use letter grades to track student progress but noted that there has been little consistency in how school districts across the state have adopted to the new remote learning system.


“There is no consistency across the state with how progress is being measured. With us we are giving feedback to the students. There are a few school districts that are concerned about this issue for multiple reasons, but I will say many districts are defaulting to the P (pass) or the W (fail),” said Doyle.


The superintendent pointed out that students taking advanced placement (AP) courses would also receive only a P or W letter grade under the State Board plan.


“That concerns me greatly,” responded Board Chairman David Hale.


After several Board members said they would like time to gather more data on the matter, the Board voted down a motion to table the discussion until its next scheduled meeting on April 23. During the discussion prior to the vote, several board members, said they were confused about what they were voting on.


“I thought we were going to table this motion to the next meeting until we gathered more data. Then I thought we’d vote if Doyle would send the resolution anyway,” said Boomer.


The Board then voted on a resolution asking the state to allow the school district flexibility in giving seniors the choice to improve their grades. The resolution read in part: “After four years of interrupted instruction, whereas the students of Craven County Schools missed an average of 21-26 days of instruction in the 2018-2019 school year, displaced from their homes as a result of Hurricane Florence...the state board has allowed a resolution that allows students to not earn a letter grade.”


The motion to approve the resolution failed on a 4-3 vote.


After a round of confused conversation, the Board also voted on a motion to take no action until more information was provided. Doyle was asked if a vote on the resolution at its next meeting would give the State Board enough time to consider and approve it.


“No one knows because it depends on if the State Board will receive it and take action on it,” said Doyle.


“I’m at a loss,” Chairman Hale commented at one point.


“I don't understand the process here,” responded Boomer. “We’ve already voted. This is what I’m feeling: I’m feeling y’all want the resolution and you’re voting all over again. I thought we did not want the resolution sent to the state, and it was 4-3.”


The motion to table the matter was approved by a 7-0 vote.