The Little Rock School District administration building Benjamin Hardy

A team of high school students won changes to a long-standing semester exam exemption rule at Thursday’s Little Rock School District board meeting. 

In 2005, the school board voted to allow semester exam exemptions after a Central High School student, Tyler Fuller, went before the board to make this request. After 18 years, current students felt it was time for a revision. 

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Two students at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School initiated the effort, and a committee of students met on April 3 to hash out revisions. The committee members were:

Suthar Nama – 12th grade, Central High 

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Aniya Whitfield – 11th grade, Central High 

Kadyn Loring – 12th grade, Parkview 

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Camille Gardner – 12th grade, Parkview 

Omarai Williams – 11th grade, LR Southwest 

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Anna Belin – 12th grade, LR Southwest 

London Ross – 11th grade, LR West School of Innovation

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The current exemption policy for seniors is that they may be exempt from finals for the second semester, if: they have a grade of 80% or higher in the course for each nine weeks; have no more than three excused absences and no unexcused absences in the class in question; no more than one tardy in the class in question; no citizenship mark of two or higher in the class in question; no out-of-school suspensions or expulsions in the second semester; have parental consent, and have no requirement regarding Advanced Placement exams. Each student currently has a limit of four exemptions. 

Currently, AP students who want an exemption from their semester exams have to meet the following criteria: have a grade of 70% or higher in the course for each nine weeks; No more than three excused absences and no unexcused absences in the class in question; have no more than one tardy in the class in question; have no citizenship mark of two  or higher in the class in question; have no out-of-school suspensions or expulsions in the second semester and they must take the AP Exam for the course.

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After Thursday’s meeting, however, there’s a new set of rules in place. Henceforth, there will be no limits for excused absences, but students wanting to skip exams can have no more than three tardies with an exception for first block. The rule about citizenship marks is gone, and students with one suspension are still eligible for an exemption. Students will have due process rights to appeal any decision that a teacher makes on semester exam exemption to the building principal. 

This policy passed unanimously. 

The board also agreed to seek out a federal grant to help fund the district’s magnet schools. Magnets have been in Little Rock for almost 40 years. These schools were created as a part of the desegregation lawsuits of the 1980s. In the district’s court-approved integration plan back then, the Little Rock School District agreed to have a series of specialty magnet schools that would have unique concentrations such as arts and international languages. Back then, the magnet schools were put into place as a desperate attempt of the Little Rock School district to integrate its schools as white families continued the trend of fleeing our city public schools. At the same time, it was a way for local white leaders to offer white families schools where their children would not be a total racial minority. 

The magnet schools worked for a few kids, but the majority of our African American kids were still forced into racially isolated schools that did not always meet their specific historic educational needs. After the Little Rock School District was released from federal court control, the state magnet money disappeared, and we no longer had the racial quotas that had insured diverse student bodies. 

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Superintendent Jermall Wright and his team want to make some changes to the magnet model using a 2024 Magnet Schools Assistance Program Grant through the U. S. Department of Education. The grant is for four magnet schools. Dunbar Magnet Middle School will implement a business, leadership and entrepreneurship theme; Martin Luther King Magnet Elementary School will implement a leadership and language theme; Mann Magnet Middle School will implement a multimedia arts & digital innovations theme; and Carver will implement a S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) theme.

The Department of Education program provides 5-year grants of up to $3 million per year for a total award of $15 million to create new or significantly revised magnet school programs. If the Little Rock School District is approved, the funding will be used to purchase curriculum and instructional materials, provide district-level and school-based staff for the grant, provide professional development, afterschool and summer programming, and to market and recruit students.

The board passed this motion unanimously. 

The board opted to consolidate the two digital learning platforms used in virtual instruction. Edementum is the platform that’s been used for credit recovery and at our alternative schools. Edgenuity is used for the virtual academy classes at Hall and Dunbar. 

The district will switch over to Edgenuity only for a cost-savings of $14,770.

This was approved unanimously. 

Chief Financial Officer Kelsey Bailey reports district finances are solid, with a fund balance of about $35 million.

The next round of teacher contract offers will be voted on in the next board meeting. So teachers, if you’ve not seen your name on a list, don’t worry.