Palo Alto Unified School District sent a definitively worded letter to the school community on May 19 outlining its final position on an advanced "dual enrollment" calculus class that won't give students high school credit for taking it.
Concern about multivariable calculus was sparked after it briefly showed up in the Palo Alto High School course catalog this year, causing confusion for some parents and students who thought teens who enrolled would get high school credit. But the district said the class, taught by a Foothill College instructor, is only offered for college credit, and it won't be available during the regular school bell hours. (Multivariable calculus is more advanced than the highest level math course currently taught through the school district, AP Calculus BC.)
"This was a simple site error and was corrected. The site knew the class was going to be offered as 'single credit' and failed to correct the catalog," district Superintendent Don Austin said in the May 19 letter.
The school district already offers college-level or "dual-enrollment" courses, which are taught by credentialed school district teachers who have also been authorized by Foothill College as course instructors.
But the district doesn't have any current staff members willing and able to teach the multivariable calculus course, necessitating instruction by a Foothill College instructor, Austin said. By the same token, that Foothill instructor doesn't have a California teaching credential, a requirement by the California Department of Education for allowing students to earn high school credit. So students can earn only college credit for taking the class.
Austin in his letter offered the example of the Human Anatomy course, which is offered as dual-enrollment at Palo Alto High School, as the teacher has been authorized by Foothill College. But Human Anatomy at Gunn High School is not listed as a dual-enrollment class because the teacher doesn't currently hold that authorization, he said.
The multivariable calculus issue has become heated, leading to lengthy discussions about it on social media. Parents and former students have also contacted the California Department of Education about the issue and received contradictory information, according to Austin. That's added to the confusion, he said.
"The credentialing issue may be an element of this topic where we will have disagreement between PAUSD and some parents. People can have different interpretations and comfort levels, even after reviewing the same information," Austin said. "In this case, PAUSD is the responsible party and will require a valid California teaching credential to award high school credit calculated into the high school GPA. This fine point has nothing to do with the ability to take the course free of charge while earning college credit."
But the district's decision to offer the course after school isn't sitting well with some parents. Avery Wang wrote in a letter to the school board that it isn't clear why the district resists offering the calculus class during school hours.
"As many have pointed out, the current proposed offering collides with extracurricular activities, such as sports, robotics, and other stuff. It also collides with dinnertime, family time, and homework time," Wang wrote. "This forces a false choice between math and everything else. In a preference poll currently underway, the vast majority of students answering so far have indicated a preference for during school hours."
Richard Aufrichtig, another parent, wrote to the school board citing multiple concerns with the district's plan, including safety from late-night commutes, incompatibility with other after-school programs and after-school jobs.
"By only offering a class post-school, students need to make a choice between supporting the livelihood of their family versus taking a class. It is discriminatory to force a student to make such a choice," he said.
Austin countered that the district also won't allow the specialized class to be taught within the usual school-day period. Community college instructors who are not school district employees. The school district doesn't have single-credit courses in any subject within its bell schedule at either high school taught by a non-school district employee, he added.
Foothill said it has provided multivariable calculus classes to students of Palo Alto and Gunn high schools for a number of years in different formats and settings, including zero period (before school hours) and a class listed as 7th period that started in the afternoon so students from both high schools could commute to the class.
The college is offering the 2023-2024 course asynchronously, online, and in-person on the Paly campus after school hours, said Kurt Hueg, Foothill's interim vice president of instruction, in a letter to parents that accompanied the school district's letter.
Foothill has committed to offering a three-course series of math classes, in person, for Palo Alto Unified students after school, Hueg said.
"While this option may not be optimal for some students, who want to participate in sports or other after school activities, this is when our college can provide this instruction and it is consistent with previous offerings and will ensure a level of quality and student success that we stand behind," he said.
Wang said that the parents have found a freelance instructor who can teach during their preferred times. The instructor could contract with Foothill, wrote Wang, who expressed frustration that the district hasn't pursued the idea.
Hueg said the college and the district haven't discussed offering the math classes during the regular high school day hours, nor will there be classes offered during that time.
"While parents have been forthcoming in offering potential faculty that could teach during the day, we cannot entertain parent-led negotiations regarding scheduling of classes, hiring of instructors or contract education. We will continue to provide dual enrollment instruction through our AB 288 agreement with PAUSD, which is a growing and fruitful agreement, and we will continue to look for ways to expand our presence with dual enrollment classes with PAUSD, where it meets both the educational mission of Foothill College and the educational mission and needs of PAUSD students and faculty," he said.