CHS handbook requires that students take a full, six course schedule; Minn. statute relating to PSEO students indicates otherwise

    At the request of a parent, the Crookston School Board and Superintendent Chris Bates are reviewing the state statute that relates to the high school course-load that post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO) students are required to take when they enroll part-time in college courses while sophomores, juniors or seniors at Crookston High School.

    Michelle Christopherson appeared before the board for the second consecutive meeting this week as part of her continued effort to get some language in the Crookston High School student handbook changed so that it doesn't "require" all students to take at least six full-time high school classes, or the equivalent.

    Christopherson previously asked the board to approve a change in the handbook wording that would take into account "concurrent enrollment" students such as PSEO students by permitting them to enroll in fewer courses if they wish but with the equivalent credit hours necessary for graduation. During her remarks to the board this week, Christopherson said it basically comes down to changing the word "required" to recommended."

    As for the statute, MNStatute124D.09, Subd. 12 states that "seven quarter or four semester college credits equal at least one full year of high school credit." A typical college course is 3 or 4 credits, per semester. Given the statute's weighting of college credits versus high school credits, Christopherson contends that the CHS handbook's current wording is not in line with the statute. "You cannot require a student to take three or more courses in order for a student to engage in concurrent enrollment," she told the board.

    In addition, the "Student Eligibility" section of the Minnesota Department of Education's Minnesota PSEO Program Information document states that "school districts cannot set course load requirements at the high school as a prerequisite for participating in PSEO. For example: a school district cannot require a student to take at least three courses at the high school in order to take a PSEO class."     

    CHS counselor Ray Lutovsky detailed his thoughts on the handbook's wording, the PSEO program and the ramifications of changing the handbook's language at this week's board meeting, a presentation the board requested after Christopherson brought the matter to their attention at their final August meeting.

    Lutovsky said he thought the local PSEO program was one of the best in the nation, but added that PSEO students are still high school students, not college students. If PSEO students are permitted to take fewer high school classes, he said that could reduce the amount of state education funding funneling into the district, and could adversely impact the high school faculty.   

    "This would likely impact electives more than required courses, and that could impact faculty," Lutovsky said, adding that students who have to take a full, six-course schedule, even if it's a mix of high school and college courses, learn valuable time management skills and the importance of responsibility. Touching on the potential financial impact of students not being considered in the eyes of the state funding formula as being full-time high school students, Lutovsky said the PSEO program is "not necessary a cash drain, but PSEO students are a cost to us." He continued, "It may seem like a one-line change on page 27, but there are implications."

    Asked by school board member Robin Brekken if he was basing his comments on state statute or if he was stating his opinion, Lutovsky said he was stating his opinion.

    Currently, only 10 CHS students are taking classes at the University of Minnesota Crookston as part of the PSEO program. Lutovsky said years ago the program, which was born in Crookston in the mid-1980s, had as many as 57 students. But, citing smaller class sizes in general as well as stricter academic acceptance guidelines at UMC and elsewhere – a student must score a minimum of a 21 on the ACT test in order to be accepted into UMC's PSEO program – Lutovsky said it's not surprising that PSEO numbers down.

    Christopherson agreed that smaller class sizes and stricter college academic standards have combined to decrease PSEO numbers. The small number of students enrolled in PSEO courses, she said, reinforces her contention that the potential financial impact on the district if any PSEO students opted to lessen their high school course load would be minimal.

    "I'm not trying to move the earth here," Christopherson said. "Rigor is critical, and I truly believe students can get it in this district. ...I am confident that a student taking two college courses would want to take a couple of high school electives anyway."

    Bates acknowledged that, for the district, much of it comes down to state funding and whether or not a student is considered by the state to be a full-time student. As part of the process of further researching the statute's language, he also said he would check with other school districts in the region to see how their similar policies are worded.

    Christopherson is director of the Center for Adult Learning at UMC. She told the board that she was appearing before them as a parent, with the future academic interests of her two children, a seventh grader and a freshman, in mind.