Hamden school board takes gym out of GPAs amid equity concerns – New Haven Register

This is a carousel. Use Next and Previous buttons to navigate
John Hanna, a social worker at Hamden High School, addresses the Board of Education about GPA weighting inequities on Sept. 20, 2022.
The Hamden Board of Education meets to discuss a GPA weighting inequity on Sept. 20, 2022.
The Hamden Board of Education meets to discuss a GPA weighting inequity on Sept. 20, 2022.
Hamden High School parents attend a Board of Education meeting about GPA weighting inequity on Sept. 20, 2022.
HAMDEN — Starting this year, grades for gym class no longer will factor into Hamden High School students’ GPAs, a change expected to precede a broader review of the district’s GPA weighting policies.
Approved Tuesday by the Board of Education, the new rule marks an attempt to address an inequity in the GPA weighting system discovered in the spring by students who found that gym classes were being factored into some students’ GPAs but not others, depending on whether a student took physical education over summer or during the school year.
But because the board’s new policy does not apply retroactively, it does little to benefit upperclassmen who already have taken gym. Tuesday’s vote, which disappointed students and parents attending the meeting, came with an apology from board chair Melissa Kaplan, who said legal limitations prevented the district from adopting a student-proposed solution.
“Our hands are feeling very tied. None of us are satisfied with the options that were considered to be legally viable,” Kaplan said after the vote. “None of them fix the harm that was created.”
“I feel very torn in voting for a solution that really isn’t a solution in terms of how it impacts students equally,” she said. “I’m just left with just letting you know that I’m sorry that things didn’t work out the way that they deserved to be.”
Community members like Jaideep Talwalkar, the parent of a Hamden High School senior, left the meeting dissatisfied.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. I saw the disappointment on the kids’ faces,” Talwalkar said. “They, like me, have no understanding about the basis for this decision. (The board) gave no explanation about why they can’t do the right thing.”
Students and parents complained about the level of transparency surrounding the board decision, which came after an hour-and-a-half-long executive session which community members were not allowed to attend.
While Kaplan has said due process concerns make it difficult to enact retroactive policy changes, community members like Talwalkar called for a more specific explanation of the legal challenges.
Because sophomores and juniors will continue to be affected by the gym weighting inequity, Talwalkar said, “the solution that (the board) did approve cements that this problem is going to remain for three more years.”
Some current high school students took gym over the summer, in which case it has not counted toward their GPA. Students like Weihao Lin and Talwalkar’s son, Nayan Talwalkar, had argued the school should calculate two GPAs  —  one with gym factored in and one without it  — and assign whichever was higher.
Because of Hamden’s weighted GPA system, even an A-plus in gym can lower the GPA of students taking higher-level courses. The grade counts as six points, the same as a C-plus in an AP course, according to the 2021/2022 student handbook.
Advocates of the student-proposed plan said it would not have lowered anyone’s GPA but would have leveled the playing field so that class rank did not hinge upon when a student took physical education.
But Kaplan said the inevitable changes in class rank posed a legal problem.
“The way in which rankings go is if students are moving up, inevitably some students will be moving down, and that’s where we run into various legal violations in terms of due process, in terms of changing policies that have already been established,” she told the group assembled in the board meeting room.
Superintendent of Schools Gary Highsmith also offered an explanation.
“The board has a duty to be consistent in dealing with people because people have a right to equal protection of the laws from governmental agencies,” he said. “The board is prohibited from depriving persons of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
“Education is a property right, and to deprive students of such rights requires due process. When we create school rules the board and the district have to be mindful that, among other things, students and families have fair notice.”
Highsmith worried changing the GPA weighting system in a way that affected class rank for upperclassmen would not have given families fair notice, he said.
Highsmith, who previously served as assistant superintendent and officially became head of the district Sept. 1, said he proposed a different solution: for the purpose of college applications, calculate two GPAs for students – one with and one without gym – but continue to determine class rank using the old system.
“I thought I had an answer, frankly speaking. It didn’t withstand legal scrutiny, and it didn’t withstand the pushback,” he told the meeting attendees. “I apologize that I could not think of a more efficient, a more effective way to handle it, but I can assure you that I had one thought in mind: what’s best for our students.”
Going forward, school administrators also plan “to undertake a comprehensive review of weighting in our district,” Highsmith said.
Meanwhile, questions remain about the lingering effects of the gym weighting discrepancy.
Will it, for example, affect who becomes valedictorian and salutatorian for the class of 2023? Lin, a senior heavily involved in efforts to address the inequity, has noted that University of Connecticut scholarship money could be at stake when it comes to the selection of the class’s top two students.
Parents like Maureen Foley have worried GPA inequities could affect merit scholarship offers from colleges.
And community members have agonized over reports that the controversy has sparked conflict between high school students.
For years, gym lowered the GPAs of high-achieving students – but because few, if any, took gym over the summer, it did so across the board.
The introduction several years ago of a special program called the Hamden Engineering Careers Academy meant students in that program were allowed to take summer gym classes to accommodate their courses during the school year.
According to Dyahatou Saanon, a senior in the HECA program, some of her peers feel attacked by advocacy efforts over GPA calculations.
When students started to question the fairness of excluding summer gym from GPA calculations, some in the HECA program felt their hard work was being discredited, Saanon said.
But Saanon was not upset by the advocacy and believes some of the ill-will comes down to a lack of understanding of other students’ views, she said.
“I’ve heard their proposals, and what they’re trying to do,” she said of the student advocates’ solution, which would have made gym grades optional in GPA calculations. “They’re just trying to make P.E. unweighted, I believe, for people who are taking regular P.E. And that doesn’t directly affect me.”
Saanon and others, including Lin, believe increased transparency from the district would have lessened school tensions.
“I wanted to reiterate how the board hasn’t been very clear with how policies work, and that confuses students even more,” Saanon said of why she attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I just want to encourage transparency and better communication between students, parents and the board.”
Community members like John Hanna, a social worker at the high school, have argued a lack of access to information about GPA weighting policies goes to the root of the current controversy.
“Doing what you’re talking about with physical education doesn’t remedy the problem. It’s a process and procedural problem,” he told the board during the public comment portion of the meeting. “Folks need to know what the rules are. Policy needs to be articulated, needs to be rolled out.”
And Hanna brought up another concern: taking gym out of the GPA calculation will harm some students.
“A lot of students, our students, that’s where they find their space,” he said. “If you’re going to take away or diminish physical education, you know, that’s one less space for them to shine.”
Meghan Friedmann covers North Branford, Guilford and Madison. Before joining the Register team, she worked on an independent journalism project about migration in Berlin, Germany. When she’s not reporting, you can find her hiking Shoreline trails and eating her way through New Haven. She welcomes feedback and story ideas from readers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *