Santa Barbara School Superintendent Cary Matsuoka and Shawn Carey at a recent school board meeting
Santa Barbara School Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, left, and Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Shawn Carey at a recent school board meeting. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Unified School District will hold an emergency meeting Thursday to consider a change to the grading policy for the spring semester. 

The specific details of the official proposal are being kept secret. Superintendent Cary Matsuoka spent the weekend speaking to board members about the proposal, but the won’t release the staff report for Thursday’s “special” meeting until Wednesday. 

The proposal, sources said, is likely to include a few options, including moving to credit/no credit only for students, allowing students the opportunity to take a letter grade, or not allowing a student to get an “F.” Districts throughout the state have scrambled in recent days to pass proposals that allow students the option to end the semester with a credit/no-credit option or take their grade as of March 12, the last day of instruction.

Sources told Noozhawk that Raul Ramirez, assistant superintendent of elementary education, and Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education, are pushing the proposal and options for changing the grading policy for the semester as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the traditional way of instruction has been transferred to the home and many students have experienced technological challenges, including a lack of WiFi, the district is trying to minimize the impacts of the disruption in learning. Some students don’t have computers or other resources to thrive in a distance-learning environment. Critics, however, have raised concerns that any policy that allows for only credit/no-credit would punish students who have high grades and who are submitting college applications.

“I understand how challenging this time has been for so many students, with unimaginable experiences, so credit/no-credit is an equitable way to go,” said board member Laura Capps. “I also see the merit of adding a grade option if they choose their grade that was in place on March 12. What I am interested in is that hybrid approach.”

Capps said she pushed for the matter to go before the board, rather than getting handled administratively.

Thursday’s special meeting will begin at 5 p.m. with closed session discussion on the new superintendent search. Open session will begin at 7:15 p.m. when the board will discuss the grading policy.

“We have been working on a policy to address the needs of our students and teachers,” Matsuoka told Noozhawk. “It would be premature for me to release any details about the policy recommendations as it is still in production.”

Matsuoka said he would release details Wednesday, just 24 hours prior to the meeting, which the law allows for special meetings. Thursday’s school board meeting would be held via Zoom, with no in-person public particpation, per the pandemic. 

“A team led by Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education, has been studying a variety of options for how we grade students during school closures,” said Camilla Barnwell, public information officer for the district. “The state has left it up to individual school districts to create such policies, and our plan is to bring a proposal to the school board on Thursday so that they can also weigh in on this. Of course the ultimate goal is to find that balance between taking pressure off of students during these challenging times, while also continuing to inspire learning and academic growth.”

The state Department of Education lists several options for grading, including: grading normally, with end-of-semester grades; give credit/no-credit grades; give grades based on the marks at the time of the school’s closure; allow a temporary opt-out of a course that could be completed later online or through independent study, and others. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.