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Wide White: They're not going to let him graduate

Thursday, May 31, 2007

They're not going to let him graduate

Here's the story the weekly Rhinelander newspaper ran on my brother's fight with the school board. They decided to let him satisfy the requirement through an independent project-based curriculum.

Just yesterday, he found out that the psychology teacher decided the work he'd done to satisfy his assignments still wasn't good enough. He got an email just after 10:00 telling him that, though he didn't see the email until later. My mom also got a voicemail at around 12:30 telling her to call the school back regarding the issue. The principal finally called her back later in the afternoon and told her that since the teacher decided he hadn't satisfied the requirements and he needed to satisfy them by noon yesterday, he couldn't graduate.

So, as it stands now, he's not walking with his class on Saturday. He could still satisfy the requirements by the middle of June and get a diploma, but he's disgusted enough with the school district that he's planning on opting to get his HSED instead.

He's the class president and was chosen to give a speech during the graduation ceremony. I'm not sure how that's going to play out now.

For those interested in reading it here (in case it's not available on the newspaper's website), here's the story. I wouldn't be surprised if there will be a follow-up story to this.

5/18/2007 11:17:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article
RHS senior was ready to choose beliefs over graduation

By Craig Mandli
Associate editor

Chet White is, by every definition, the All-American boy. He's a three-sport athlete, is involved with numerous volunteer organizations and serves as the president of his class. He's also ranked in the top 10 in his class academically.

Still, up until recently, Chet wasn't going to graduate.

Chet and his family are members of Northwoods Baptist Church. They consider themselves, according to Chet's mother, Cindy, Baptist Christians. It's because of this affiliation that the White family opposed Chet enrolling in a psychology or sociology course, one of which is required to graduate from Rhinelander High School.

"The teachings of the Baptist religion and the Bible encourage a different way of thinking than what's taught in these courses," said Cindy. "It's not so much that we disagree with the subject matter being taught, but rather that it doesn't leave its conclusions open to interpretation. The conclusions we've learned and believe through our church are much different than the conclusions taught in the text book."

Chet has easily accrued enough credits to graduate. According to information provided by Rhinelander High School Principal Mike Werbowsky, the school requires 27 credits for graduation, 13.5 of which are required by the state of Wisconsin. Chet has more than 30 credits; yet, because none of those credits were earned in a psychology or sociology course, Chet was informed in early March that he wouldn't be graduating with his class.

"It was a shock," said Chet. "In the past, the school board either waived the course or provided an alternative form of education to fulfill the requirements. I guess they were putting their foot down in my case."

According to Cindy, the board granted waivers in the past because of a discrepancy in the wording of the official school curriculum. "The curriculum used to state that if a student had beliefs that differ from what is offered in the course, an alternative would be found," she said. "They've changed it to say that if the student has a problem with the subject matter of one part of the course, they can be exempt, but they still need to complete the rest of the course. Our family disagrees with all of the sociology course, and too much of the psychology subject matter is controversial to us."

Still, many of Chet's peers don't understand his problems with the classes. "They ask, 'Why don't you just take the class and tough it out?'" he said. "They don't understand that it's not that simple for me. I'm going to disagree all the time with what's taught in these classes, even with the ideas that aren't open to interpretation. I morally couldn't sit there and learn those ideas."

Chet went before the board of education in April to plead his case, but was unable to sway the board voters.

"Almost every board member told me that they felt bad for me, and that they appreciated everything I've done at the school, but they wouldn't reverse the decision," he said. "It was a frustrating time. I've never been the type to feel entitled, but after four years of school and trying my best, I felt I deserved to graduate with my class. It felt like a slap in the face."

According to Cindy, one board member in particular stood by the idea that sociology or psychology was not only a school graduation requirement, but also was required by the state. However, citing budget cutbacks, the state dropped that requirement in 2002.

"It irked me that board member who is making curriculum decisions didn't even know that this requirement hasn't been on the state books for five years," she said. "When I showed her the proof, her jaw dropped."

Despite the dead end with the school board, Cindy and Chet met with high school guidance counselor Mike Mack in early May, and together they laid out an independent study, project-based psychology curriculum. With Mack's backing, Chet brought the idea before the school board's curriculum committee last week. To his surprise, the committee approved it.

"I don't know what happened between the time they told me I couldn't do an independent study course and the time they approved it," he said. "I'd like to think that some of my arguments hit home. The course still needs to be approved by the full council, and I still need to pass it, but it feels good to have progress."

If the plan hadn't been accepted, Chet was ready to take an exam at Nicolet College to receive a general equivalency diploma. "It's not something I wanted to do, but things still would have worked out," he said. "It would have hurt not being able to graduate with my classmates." Of Chet's three older siblings, two were at least partially home schooled, and hold equivalency diplomas. Both have gone on to college.

While school superintendent Roger Erdahl pointed out that he can't legally comment on the situation of a particular student, he did say that every school in the state has graduation requirements that differ in some way.

"The state requires certain courses, but after that, it's up to the individual school board," said Erdahl. "The way our curriculum is set up, there are only a few required 7th grade courses that can be waived, and that's because of high test scores."

While Erdahl believes that it's important that schools remain strict on graduation requirements, it's also necessary to maintain a level of flexibility.

"We deal with situations all the time, especially with transfer students, where we need to adapt the system a little bit," he said. "Independent study courses are one option. The school's goal is to see that the students graduate."

Erdahl explained that if graduation requirements were easily manipulated, it could lead to problems.

"I'm sure there are a lot of subjects touched on in school that not everyone agrees with, but the school board's goal is to provide a well-rounded education," he said. "That's why it's important to have flexibility in place, but also to stand firm."

For Chet to graduate, he'll have to complete projects based on learning, memory, personality, abnormal psychology and social psychology. Two projects will deal with his reasoning explaining the shootings at Virginia Tech University and his ideas for overcoming racism. "I'm sure I'll disagree with a lot of what I read, but at least I'll be able to incorporate what I learn and what I believe into these projects," he said. "It's a lot of work, but it's something I'm looking forward to."

If Chet completes the pass/fail course, he'll graduate. However, he isn't done advocating for a change before the school board.

"I have six little brothers and sisters who are going to face the same situation I'm in," he said. "I owe it to them to work for this change. I don't think it's fair that these subjective courses are required."


Anonymous Anonymous declared,

My daughter is in band at RHS .....she started crying when see saw Chet in the stands and not graduating with his class....It's wrong that they denied him this..We want to work on this and correct it....A concerned Rhinelander citizen

6/06/2007 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous declared,

Well congrats. You've successfully made him a martyr.

6/08/2007 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous declared,

Why Christians send their children to public schools is beyond me.

6/10/2007 10:43 PM  
Blogger kristi noser declared,

Why people comment anonymously is beyond me.

6/15/2007 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie declared,

I'm very sorry your brother isn't going to graduate with his class. It's not fair and it's not an appropriate decision; hopefully changes can be made in time for your younger siblings.

I, too, had trouble with my (college-level) psychology class, for different reasons. As you might remember, I have three children with autism and have learned a lot about psychology by living it.

Throughout my course I challenged my teacher, repeatedly and vehemently, and her dislike of that behavior was reflected in my grades. However, that dislike still couldn't get me below an A without raising serious issues -- and me challenging the grade.

Your brother may be required to take psychology and sociology courses in college, and he may have to "learn" some things that he does not agree with to get his college degree. I strongly recommend him to take the class and challenge the teacher each and every step along the way. Not only will his beliefs become stronger from the pressure, but he may also have the opportunity to enlighten some of his classmates who are probably going to take the teacher at his/her word. It's challenging, it's frustrating, but it's worth it.

6/21/2007 6:12 AM  

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