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Louisiana Teachers Protest Student's Promotion

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Teachers at a Grambling, La., middle school have taken an unusual step in what they say was an effort to support high academic standards.

Nine of the school's 10 teachers took a day off earlier this month--and some of them picketed in front of the school--to protest the promotion of a 12-year-old student. The teachers said the boy was promoted without fulfilling the school's requirements for progressing to the next grade.

The student had not received a passing grade in a required language-arts course the previous school year, which meant he would either have to repeat the year or complete summer-school classes to be promoted. The student attended summer school in California, which requires fewer summer-study hours.

The principal at Grambling Middle Magnet School, a laboratory school affiliated with Grambling State University, determined that the student should not be promoted because he had not earned the number of summer-study hours required in Louisiana. But the student's mother appealed to the dean of Grambling State's college of education, who serves as the superintendent for the university's lab schools. The dean overrode the principal's decision, allowing the student to enter the 7th grade.

Behind the Protest

To protest that decision, most of the school's teachers took a personal leave day on Oct. 2. The teachers said they were not protesting over one student's case, but over the responsibility of the school to stick to its prescribed requirements for promotion.

"This is the first time to my knowledge that a group of teachers has gone on strike over academic standards," said Chuck Bolden, the director of field services for the Louisiana Association of Educators. "Whatever courses [the student] took out in California, the teachers did not feel that those standards were comparable to the middle school at Grambling."

Mr. Bolden said it was "insulting to the teachers" that administrators would permit the promotion because it overrode the teachers' instructional and grading decisions.

But Curtis Baham, the education college's dean, said his decision was based on "mitigating circumstances" particular to that student's case and that the teachers' protest was based on their lack of information.

Mr. Baham said a group of educators and lawyers reviewed the matter and concluded that the California summer course was an acceptable alternative even though it required fewer hours.

In addition, Mr. Baham said, the student had transferred from California in the 5th grade, and the school had accepted those credits at the time, so the California summer credits should be acceptable.

"[The decision was] not something that was done in isolation, and it was not something that was done haphazardly--it was done consciously," Mr. Baham said.

The dean added that parents were satisfied with the decision and that there would be no "punitive actions" taken against the teachers. "This is over as far as I'm concerned," he said last week.

But Mr. Bolden said the issue was still alive for a group of parents whose children had attended summer school in Louisiana and had to adhere to the state's requirements for summer study.

"Where's the equity?" he said. Those parents are concerned about "the message that it's OK to flunk if your parent is strong enough or political enough to get you passed on," he said.

He said the teachers had met with university staff members to discuss their concerns. "This is sending a message to people that teachers are not going to tolerate messing around with academic standards," he said. "We're going to let the world know that we're professionals, and we're not going to go along with this."

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