Local High Schools Discharged
By Howard Schwach
The administrations of our two local high schools, Beach Channel High School and Far Rockaway High School, discharged more than 900 students, approximately twenty-six percent of their student bodies during the 2000-2001 school year because those students were not making adequate progress towards graduation.
Of the 2,084 students at Beach Channel High School, 496 (23.8 percent) were discharged. Of the 1,377 students at Far Rockaway High School, 359 (26.7 percent) were discharged.
According to a joint report released late last week by the Advocates for Children and the office of the Public Advocate, more than 55,000 students under the age of 21 were illegally discharged from city high schools last year. According to the report, some schools discharged more students than they graduated.
While the report stops short of saying that the discharges are a result of pressure on the schools to rid themselves of low-performing students because of the higher standards for graduation, it does say, "there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that many of the students are being forced out because of the pressure on the schools caused by the new, higher standards for graduation."
"Recent school policy changes that created higher standards for graduation may be contributing to the discharge phenomenon," the report says. "Students who are unable to pass Regents exams no longer have the middle options of attaining a local, non-Regents diploma or graduating from an alternative school that uses portfolio assessment as graduation measures. Today, they have to either pass Regents or get a GED."
Elisa Hyman, the Deputy Director of the Advocates For Children, said, "In many cases, we see schools are just excluding children from school based on age and school performance. Students show up and are turned away or principals tell them to leave. We have students coming to our office as young as 15 and 16 who are being told that they have no chance of passing and are never offered the help that state and federal law may require."
The report says that many of the students are forced into GED programs. Student enrollment of sixteen and seventeen year olds in those programs has "swelled" in recent years according to the report. The report says that such enrollment has grown by up to forty percent in the past three years.
In its October 19 issue, The Wave reported that more than 220 students at Beach Channel High School, some as young as 16-years-of-age, had received letters from Andrea Holt, the school’s new principal, advising them that they had "not made sufficient progress to maintain a seat at Beach Channel High School."
A spokesperson for the Department of Education later said that the letters to the younger students were "a mistake," and that the letter was meant only for "eighteen and nineteen year-olds" who were not making progress towards graduation.
A spokesperson for Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, however, told The Wave that the law requires schools to keep students up to the age of 21. Students who are not making progress towards graduation are entitled to a variety of services that must be offered by the school.
A student over the age of 18 who had been truant for more than 20 consecutive days can be dropped, but parental conferences must be held and specific guidelines must be followed. A student who is dropped for truancy may come back to the school at any time until age 21, according to the law.