Poly High School as seen on November 16, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

The Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to relax high school graduation requirements at Wednesday evening’s board meeting. The move comes in response to the COVID-19 shutdowns of the district’s physical campuses and the challenges posed by transitioning 70,000+ students to digital learning.

The district has one of the most stringent sets of standards in California, but it is temporarily relaxing those credit and class benchmarks to the basic state requirements. Instead of 220 credits, students will need the California minimum of 130 credits to get a high school diploma.

“We are one of the few districts that normally requires so many units,” said LBUSD superintendent Chris Steinhauser. “This is a safety net for those students we would put in credit recovery. They still have to meet the state requirements, but this is a safety net.”

The district’s normal requirements will go back into effect for the 2020-21 school year.

Parents pushing for grades

Some LBUSD parents continue to push the district to include an opt-in grading option instead of moving solely to a credit/no-credit system. Last night’s meeting was the first since the district announced that they were switching to credit/no-credit for the Spring 2020 semester.

Twenty-two letters were read in support of adding a grading opt-in, with a majority coming from parents of students at Wilson High. One of the letters was from Millikan student Riley Cantrell, who authored the Change.org petition asking the district to add an opt-in grading policy, which currently has almost 1,500 signatures.

As is typical of groups speaking or writing on an item that’s not on the agenda, there was no formal response from the board members. At the end of the meeting, during the board member reports, Board Member Diana Craighead said she appreciated the respectful tone of the letters.

“Everyone’s comments were respectful and dignified and I appreciate that,” she said. “It’s so nice that we are able to involve ourselves in these discussions in a respectful way.”

Upcoming budget woes

While the district, the city’s largest employer, hasn’t yet announced layoffs or major cuts, there was a pall over the meeting because of looming financial issues. Steinhauser and incoming superintendent Jill Baker have both alluded to what they expect to be significant cuts in state funding the next few years due to lost revenue because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Board Member Felton Williams acknowledged those fears and the coming issues during his report at the end of the meeting.

“I reflect back to 2008 when we had a massive layoff in this district and we wondered how this district would hold up in terms of its national profile,” he said. “It was impressive to watch everyone come to the table and give their best. Now as I look at where we are today, in a lot different circumstances and appearing to be a lot more ominous, I’m quite sure that the spirit of this district will allow us to maintain that same focus and intensity.”

Williams and Board Member Megan Kerr added that they’re part of the effort to advocate for locally controlled school funding relief at the state and federal level.

“We will rise to the occasion like we did in the Great Recession,” said Steinhauser.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be May 20 at 5 p.m.