HINESBURG — Do schools need a certain number of librarians? Should the state mandate how many years of math a high school student needs to graduate?
These are some of the key questions in play as the state looks to revise its educational standards. After 15 years, the State Board of Education is revising Rule 2000, which was put in place after Act 60 to make sure students have equal educational opportunities.
Teachers, administrators, librarians, nurses and other school staff weighed in on the proposed changes at a public forum at Champlain Valley High School on Monday night.
The changes to Rule 2000 need to be approved by the State Board of Education and the Legislature; if that happens on schedule, they will take effect in September 2014. Monday’s meeting was the third and final public forum on the topic.
Some of the adjustments are technical in nature, but others are significant.
Librarians were put on the defensive when they saw the draft rule, which had erased all mention of them, including the required minimum ratio of one library media specialist per 300 students.
Nurse practitioners, too, were taken aback by the elimination of the requirement that schools have one nurse for every 500 students.
Diane Kirson-Glitman, a school nurse at Essex High School and Center for Technology, told education officials, “I have a real fear that if we don’t have those minimum standards for how many students per school nurse or associate school nurse that you could end up in a situation where there would be ancillary staff delivering nursing services or what would be called nursing services and it would be a huge disservice to the population that we serve right now. There’s more to being a school nurse than putting a Band-Aid on or delivering medication.”
Local schools sometimes chafe at state mandates, which can stifle the flexibility of curriculums, but several people at Monday’s meeting urged the board to keep its minimum graduation requirements intact.
Currently, all high school students are required to either take or test out of a certain number of years of basic subjects — four years of English, three years of math and one year of art are among the requirements. The revised Rule 2000 does away with the specific year-by-year obligations, giving school districts more leeway to develop their own “proficiency-based” requirements in different subject areas.
Dorinne Dorfman, principal of Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend, said those requirements ensure educational equality among students from different backgrounds, and have had helped raise test scores at her school.
“The only way we’ve made any progress on the state NECAP examinations,” she said, “was by adding to the graduation requirements.”
At the end of the hearing, board member William Mathis expressed surprise at hearing educators speaking out against the easing up of state regulations.
“It’s kind of unusual to hear people asking the state for specificity,” he noted.
But for nurses and librarians, their jobs might depend on the specificity of the current state standards.
“If [the librarian-to-student ratio] is not in the standards, then small schools will not have this. They will just have the Internet, on their own, without direction,” said Denise Wentz, president of the Vermont School Library Association.
Librarians, Wentz said, play a key role helping students cull reliable information from the Internet and in selecting high-quality literature for them.
Jill Remick, project manager for the Agency of Education, said the language about librarians wasn’t intentionally left out, and that the state board has been working with the Vermont School Library Association to refashion that section, although it hasn’t made a decision about whether it will reinsert a ratio.
The elimination of nurse ratios came as part of a proposal from the Department of Health, which still requires schools to use the services of a licensed nurse but would encourage supervisory unions to share nursing resources.
The standards still include a required ratio for guidance counselors, in part, according to Remick, because they will be key in helping students develop “personal learning plans,” a new requirement passed by the Legislature last spring.
Remick said she recognizes what’s on the line with those ratios.
“We definitely do hear schools will look to this at budget time and if they look at these requirements and see you don’t have to have a librarian … if it doesn’t say that, there is definitely a fear that a school board will say, well a state not is making us do that,” she said.
It’s about striking a balance, Remick said. The standards have to be flexible enough so students have different options and schools don’t have to adhere to strict formulas.
“But on the other hand there still needs to be a floor to ensure equity and to make sure a school can’t cut art or music or library,” she said. “This still needs to provide that kind of baseline.”