Kevin Skelly

Kevin Skelly

The proposal to temporarily postpone issuing letter grades in the San Mateo Union High School District alarmed some school community members who opposed adopting a credit system for the semester disrupted by COVID-19.

The district Board of Trustees initially scheduled a meeting to discuss the credit proposal Tuesday, April 7, but pushed the session back until Thursday, April 16, to further examine the issue.

Concerned parent Andrew Soss shared fears that students earning good grades would see their semester’s hard work wiped away with a broad stroke from officials adopting the credit system.

“It’s really not the best way to do it,” said Soss, who joined a group of like-minded parents and students writing letters to officials expressing discomfort with the proposed shift.

Officials originally suggested the pass or fail system in recognition of the assessment difficulties faced by students and teachers during the remote learning arrangements forced by the region’s stay-at-home order.

Noting many students are coping with challenging circumstances while attempting to learn from home, district Superintendent Kevin Skelly had said holding off on letter grades for the spring semester would be the most equitable approach.

Soss disagreed though, and suggested instead adopting a hybrid model which would empower students and teachers to determine which assessment system worked best — rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

To that end, he suggested giving students an option to keep their letter grade or adopt the credit system, with the consultation of teachers. He favored any system which would benefit those whose education was upended by coronavirus, but could not support an assessment method that could depress GPAs.

Such a perspective resonated with school board President Marc Friedman.

“I’m trying to do the least harm to as many students as possible,” said Friedman.

Since the proposal was floated, Friedman said he has been inundated with emails from the school community and taken time to read each piece of correspondence to get a firmer grasp on the issue.

Friedman said he is still undecided, but is open to considering alternative grading models. He pointed to the model adopted by the Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City as a potential example.

The district to the north adopted a system in which an A, B, C or pass would be issued. Teachers determine the criteria for the letter grades, and students who would otherwise receive a D or F receive a pass grade for the semester. Pass would allow a student to receive credits, but not count toward their GPA. Students who need to take a course again would receive no mark.

“If there are better options, then I will support that,” said Friedman.

He expressed some urgency around resolving the matter though, noting a decision is critical so educators will have a reasonable set of expectations for the rest of the semester.

“Teachers need an answer,” he said.

For his part, Soss said he was heartened to know that officials are receptive to the concerns raised and are seeking additional time to digest the feedback from the school community.

Soss also recognized the unusual nature of the COVID-19 outbreak may require unconventional approaches from officials, but he balanced that perspective by calling for a system meeting the needs of all students.

“I understand these are unique, once-in-a-lifetime circumstances, but let’s take a pause and think maybe there is a better way,” he said.

The San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees meets remotely Thursday, April 16. Visit for more information.

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(2) comments


I’m disappointed that some parents, who are in a position to help their children through these trying times, and have kids doing well enough to lobby to get their A grades and honors while many of us are struggling. I’m trying to keep a business that’s down 95% on revenue afloat, my wife is a nurse, and our son has lost all IEP support. I can’t tell you how difficult it is at home.

Our son’s teacher told us at the start of break that the school had decided to go with credit/no credit for everyone. We were so relieved that we were able to have a bearable spring break, my wife started volunteering for ICU duty, and I was able to bear it when my last 5% client income shut down.

Now I read this news, and I’m shaken.

I get it, my daughters were honors students, and they’re at top schools. One of them is getting her masters in Epidemiology at Colombia NYC. She’s on a credit no credit now too, so she can relax enough to deal with this horror.

If Colombia is going pass/fail, then don’t you think they’ll cut some slack to high school students who have the same on their pandemic transcripts?

We are at war people, and some of us have family on the front lines. Let’s pull together, and support each other. Please withdraw this privileged view that some kids deserve As and honors while children of grocery workers, nurses, and other first responders on the front line are literally losing their minds in anguish.


Wow. We are in an economic tailspin and some parents have the resources to mobilize an effort over their kids’ grades. If that isn’t privilege I don’t know what is.

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