So Pas School Board Expands Study Hall Exemptions

The issue of a mandatory study hall packed the South Pasadena School Board chambers on June 29, which legally can hold up to 133 people. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education heard parents’ concerns about mandatory study hall and has expanded the number of classes that can be taken instead, school officials announced this week.

During the School Board’s last meeting on June 26, scores of students and parents criticized school officials for holding fast to a mandatory study hall policy imposed on high school freshman and sophomores.

The School Board chamber at the June 26th meeting was packed, in fact, with more than 100 students, parents and even teachers pleading to “give students a voice to choose” an elective over study hall. The main theme from the 18 students, parents and teachers that actually spoke to the School Board was taking away the choice students could make, they couldn’t opt for an elective such as choir, drama and band that has proved to be a life-saver.

There is an exemption list that accompanies the mandatory study hall policy. This list contains 19 courses that present a pathway to a career, among other requirements, that allow the student to get out of taking study hall.

The crowd wanted the School Board at the very least to expand that list and it has done so, according to an announcement released by Yantz July 17.

“Based on feedback, the school administration revisited the exception list to determine if additional courses met the criteria or if the criteria could be modified to expand the list of courses school-wide without increasing staffing levels, costs, or instructional spaces,” Yantz said in the announcement sent out to School District parents.

The expanded list now includes athletic teams, band, drama and choir, according to school officials.

Moreover, computer science courses who begin the four-year pathway as freshman with the intention of completing all four computer science courses are exempt.

The School Board put the “highly emotional” issue on the June 26 agenda, so the public had an opportunity to voice its concerns, which it did, and give the board a chance to discuss the issue, which it did. The board was not prepared to take any action at that meeting but did give Yantz the direction to explore any possible solutions.

The June 26 meeting had student after student and even teachers saying mandatory study hall was not effective. One young student said he suffered from severe depression on a daily basis, and it was choir that pulled him through. He now can take choir. Another young student broke down, crying, during her presentation to the board, saying that her elective, drama, was “a life-saver.” She can now take drama. And still another young sophomore told the board that on somedays, the elective “was the only reason I got out of bed.”

At odds was that although study hall for freshman and sophomores was part of the high school schedule “for generations,” according to Yantz, it was loosely administered. Students could take an elective and get out of taking a mandatory study hall by simply saying so. Primuth referred to the opposing approaches as a “soft mandatory study hall” policy compare with the more recent “hard mandatory study hall” policy. The more recent hardening of the policy was brought about to build in consistency, equitability and budgetary concerns, among other issues.

At the June 26 meeting, Primuth wanted to get more information about how the exemption list was created.

“The high school’s Leadership Team will review the feasibility of this exception list for future school years,” according to the Yantz announcement. The requests for exemptions have to be submitted by July 31 but extensions to that deadline are flexible as well, according to Yantz.

Parent Katherine Chan was pleased with what she said was the district’s prompt response.

“I am pleased with the school district’s prompt action in responding to parents and student’s requests,” Chan said. “We applaud the efforts of Dr. Yantz and the high school administrators that made it happened before the commencement of next school year. In addressing to our concern on the tight deadline on July 31, Dr. Yantz responded by saying that ‘requests submitted after July 31st will be considered on an individual basis if space is available in the course and there is no course conflict in the student’s schedule.’ ”