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A children's crusade

The Desert Independent

April 2, 2017

BLYTHE, Calif – At a recent meeting of the Palo Verde USD Board of Trustees, a well-coached group of Seniors taking an AP English course approached the mike. The spiel was well written – as if an adult had lent a pen to it. They were orchestrated in the three-minute rule despite never having attended a board meeting. One may only speak for three minutes and twenty minutes per topic. They switched off reading their complaint accordingly. It seemed less a complaint that a character assassination of HS Principal Brandy Cox – who the esteemed Supt. Bush had unsuccessfully harassed into submitting a letter of resignation earlier in the year. This resignation was rescinding once he learned of the esteem the collective board had in her efforts.

Normally a complaint follows a chain of command. If you do not receive satisfaction at on level – say the Principal – one moves on to the Personnel Director, the Supe and then the Board. This complaint didn't even reach the ears of Ms. Cox but jumped ladders and went straight to the Board for its consideration. One can only think that this was done with Mr. Bush's complicity, as he had a habit of publicly humiliating those he would ask to resign. As a matter of fact, the AP teacher was congratulated by another adult as "her kids did a good job." Remember the term – orchestrated.

The letter, as read by the students, is printed in its entirety. Please have a big grain of salt handy.

"Good evening, board and cabinet members, we have come here today with a group of students to represent some concerns we share with many other students at our school. We represent some of the top academic performers from the Palo Verde High School class of 2017 with a GPA of 3.75 or higher.

We say with great pride that we are Palo Verde Yellow Jackets: Our duration at PVHS has taught us to stand up for our personal beliefs. At Palo Verde High School, We're constantly being pushed to achieve our academic goals and we're thankful for a quality education. We're reminded everyday of what a blessing it is to have teachers who believe in us. Standing before all of you, we appreciate that there are people in our community who are willing to have an open mind and listen to our concerns.

Being raised in the small community of Blythe, passion is instilled in us. Whether you decided to be an athlete, scholar or both; the students of Palo Verde High School are extremely passionate about the activities they decide to dedicate themselves to.

We stand before you today, after much debate, to question why something we are ardent about is being taken away from us. Throughout high school, we have worked through the night and into the morning to finish projects, complete hours of homework and study for exams in order to become the highest achieving academic students at Palo Verde. We have sacrificed social opportunities in order to achieve this goal of maintaining over a 3.75 average.

We did this to improve ourselves so that one day we can attend the college of our choice, obtain our dream occupations, and prove to ourselves that anything is possible. Therefore we are speaking out about our concerns and questioning why our class has been treated differently, lost opportunities, and being denied the recognition that so many others before us have been given.

Students who wish to have over a 3.75 GPA aspire to take the most rigorous classes in order to further our education. PVHS is a small school, so we understand that we cannot have every Advanced Class on campus. However, this should not stop us from learning and being able to take those enriching classes that are crucial to our success as we advance to the next step in our education. The program, FuelEd is used a PVHS for the students who are in remediation and need credit recovery. The administration, for the pasts four years, has failed to inform the student's that there is a component in the FuelEd program that offers A-G University Requirement classes that are not offered on campus and AP classes that are not currently listed.

Did you know that this program offers over 14 AP classes and five foreign languages? FuelEd is mainly focused on the advancement of students by providing classes that cannot be taken on campus – credit recovery secondary. But for some reason, when previously asked this year, the same administration that allowed for students to take AP FuelEd classes for early graduation and to avoid specific teachers, rejected certain students from taking AP Calculus or even Calculus on this very same program. A course that is no longer available on the PVUSD campus. Now that the seniors did not have AP Calculus or even Calculus, some universities are questioning why they did not take a Calculus class – therefore they would not be able to start at the same math level as their peers. Why would certain students be able to progress their education with FuelEd by taking AP classes online in order to graduate early and for personal reasons when students who simply want to enhance their education are prohibited? We feel this is an example of bias on the part of the current school administration and question why the School Board would allow this behavior to continue?

In the first semester of our Junior year in 2013, our Class was punished because approximately forty students were More juniors were caught with answers to the Final and were receiving tremendously high scores on this faux AP Exam.

Shockingly enough last year, all of the AP Language classes in the 11th grade were forced to confess on a piece of paper what we knew and who cheated. Those who confessed were assigned mandatory community service, dismissed from clubs and from leadership positions and got our Top Ten and white robes were taken away.

During the 2016 Winter Finals, a repeat of 2015 happened.

The Class of 2018, this year's Juniors, also cheated on the Winter Language Exam. The teacher of the classroom caught the students by noticing that once again, three Juniors had tremendously high scores. This teacher brought this to the attention of the Head of Administration, yet it was dismissed and nothing was ever done about this cheating scandal or if at least was not publicized like the previous class and nobody was given the same punishment we were given.

A few months later in 2016, our class was required to take the new standardized test, the SBAC. I am sure that you have analyzed our results and noticed that our scores were far below what was predicted from us. The reason for this drop in our scores lies squarely at the feet of the administration that lied and bullied our Class into participation in a test which does not matter to us.

Lies that we were told include:

  1. If we don't take the SBAC test it could jeopardize our admission into colleges.

  2. If we did not take the SBAC test we would be dropped from ASB.

  3. If we did not take the SBAC test we would have to do a 7 page essay and it would be graded by the administration. We would be sorry that we did not take the SBAC.

After looking into these statements prior to the test administration, we found that colleges do not want your scores, that legally you cannot be punished for not taking the test, that you cannot be kicked out of clubs and that the alternative assignment given cannot be used against your grade. Once we found out we were being bullied and lied to, the vast majority of students decided to opt out or failed to give our best effort. As you can see, this kind of relationship between Administration and students is not conducive to high performance on achievement tests.

At the beginning of this year, our Senior year, the administration placed the majority of the AP classes during the last portion of the day. Meaning that students who have only five classes or sports are at a huge disadvantage. Seniors who have completed their A-G University Admission requirements have the option to not have a sixth or seventh period due to jobs or extracurricular activities. Students that play sports are also at a disadvantage due to the fact that if they did decide to take the afternoon AP classes, they would be frequently missed because of their sporting events.

Past practice has been that AP and other rigorous academic classes are offered early in the day. This way, seniors and other athletes would not miss class and had the ability to better succeed in class. The optimized schedule practice was abandoned for the Class of 2017. This option was taken away from our class and almost all AP classes are being offered during fifth period. This made it impossible to participate in these classes as a student athlete or while holding down a job.

This year during lunch, the gates are opened when the bell dismisses the students for lunch, student are only given five minutes to exit the campus before the gates are locked. This sounds like a good idea, however it was not factored into the decision that many students who are in good standing and can leave the campus, have club meetings or are detained by teachers which is beyond their conduct. In the past staff stood at the gate during the entire lunch break checking IDs , allowing students to leave campus throughout the break. Many times seniors are locked in during lunch and staff cannot be found to unlock these gates causing us to be late to jobs and other commitments. It has also been practice that if we are locked out, we could check in through the office. Why is there no someone appointed to man at least one of the gates throughout the lunch period, just as it has always been since the implementable of the gates?

Since the start of our freshman year, we were promised that by achieving Top Ten of our class at the end of our senior year, we would be honored with white robes at graduation. As this year draws to a close, it is apparent that our academic achievements will not be recognized. To us these white robes are a symbol of perseverance, dedication and academic achievement at PVUSD.

Almost a year after the 2015 cheating scandal, word was spread that the administration at PVUSD had considered granting the seniors, the Top Ten and the white robes back. One direct question was answered being referred to our agenda and vague responses. By Mrs. Cox, we were told specifically that they did not have to tell us who was in the Top Ten until the 174th day out of 180 days of the school year. The agenda, the PVHS rule book, states that, "The Top Ten students of the graduating class shall be selected at the conclusion of the first semester of the Senior year." The information the administration gave us was directed towards the Valedictorian and Salutatorian in which they would not be informed until the 174th day for their selection. Why is our administration refusing to answer our questions and why have we not been informed about who is in the Top Ten?

The Top Ten white robes were taken away in 2016 and were not mentioned in the 2016-17 agenda. We decided to investigate into the past year’s agendas and found that the 2014015 agenda failed to mention anything about white robes, though the students wore them at graduation. We have here for each board member a copy of the 23014-15 Valedictorian and Salutatorian sections besides the 2016-17 section. As you can clearly see, the sections are merely copied and pasted, while having the last paragraph replaced with the exclusion Special Ed replaced with Cum Laude rules. Nor does it say anything about the color of robes we have to wear. Who can give us the final decision on whether or not we will have white robes, what is the final decision, and why?

Board and cabinet members, we understand that it is far too late for you to make a change when it comes to allowing seniors to take and expand their AP choices, reorganizing the schedules to help seniors and athletes, to add clarity to the lies we were told about the SBAC and to give justice and punishment to the Juniors who cheated this year. However, there is still time to do something about the white gowns at graduation and the locked gates.

The class of 2017 deserves white robes at graduation. Besides the white robes there are no school run programs or recognition that is in place for the Top Ten achieving students. At Palo Verde, these white gowns are much more than just a white gown. It is a symbol of perseverance, dedication and academic achievement. Mrs. Cox has failed to answer our questions regarding these issues and no progress is being made.

We ask you the Board and Cabinet to provide us with answers to the following questions:

  1. Why would only certain students be able to utilize FuelEd to take AP classes online in order to graduate early and, for personal reasons, but other students who want to maximize their education opportunities are not allowed?

  2. Why was the Class of 2017 punished when the Class of 2018 was not?

  3. Is the lack of concern and punishment towards the Class of 2018 cheating scandal due to personal relationships between members of the class and Mrs. Cox?

  4. Who can give us the final decision on whether or not we well have white robes and what is the final decision?

  5. Why is Mrs. Cox insisting on playing coy and evading answering our questions? Why can't we be informed in a timely manner about who the Top Ten are?

We thank you for listening and for your time. We look forward to hearing your answers."

Unfortunately, Mrs. Cox was out of town on the evening of this Board meeting and was unable to verbally defend her decisions. However, when contacted, Mrs. Cox stated for the record that no student, no parent and no staff member ever contacted her with any concern. Not only did these students avoid the chain of command and go straight to the top with this bit of character assassination but Mr. Cox also informs us that there was never any change in the Top Ten selection process and no mention was ever made of divesting of the white robes.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is failure to communicate.

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