Winona Senior High School (WSHS) students will have to wait for now to learn whether they will have the opportunity in the future to take a United States history summer course that involves a two-week, cross-country trip.
At the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meeting on Thursday, members voted to table the proposed course, "The American Experience: Exploring our History, Culture, and People," for a year. However, WSHS Principal Kelly Halvorsen said social studies teachers may not be willing to wait, and she cast doubt on whether teachers would even be willing to present the course proposal for a vote in the future.
“I can’t guarantee that teachers would want to bring it back,” she said.
The vote came after Halvorsen presented significant changes to the proposed course that included making it an elective instead of allowing it to fulfill a graduation requirement, and adding extra class time prior to and after the two-week trip. Yet some board members expressed hesitation about allowing the course due to its high cost for students and families.
“I don’t have a problem with the course,” board member Steve Schild said. “But I do have a problem with kids in public schools having different opportunities based on nothing to do with them, but on their parent’s ability to pay.”
Halvorsen estimated the costs at approximately $1,000 to $1,500 per student for travel expenses, which she defined as transportation as well as various admission fees to historical sites. In response to the board’s worries over financial barriers, Halvorsen made it clear that students could raise funds during the school year and that there was also a scholarship fund available to students.
“For those students and families in need, we find a way to make them go,” Halvorsen told the board.
However, board members said they were uncertain that all students who wanted to go would be covered by fundraising and scholarships.
“We have a heck of a lot of kids that are on free and reduced lunch, and those are the ones I am worried about. There’s no way, even with fundraising, they will be able to take this course,” argued board member Ben Baratto. “I don’t know if I should call it discrimination or elitist, but you’re going to exclude a heck of a lot of students.”
Costs aside, some board members said that the sudden makeover of the course proposal made it too soon to act upon.
“I think there are just other questions that need to be answered,” board member Brian Zeller said. “It’s just so quick; we’re just seeing this tonight.”
Board member Jeanne Nelson agreed, telling Halvorsen, “There is no way I can vote on this tonight because I haven’t read the papers and I haven’t had enough time to think about it.”
The course, which was proposed as part of a set of new course proposals, would have been offered to sophomores and juniors during summer 2015. While board members ultimately decided to table the decision for another year, they did make it clear that, with adjustments, they would agree to act upon the proposed course in the future.
“If they address the concerns and flesh it out, we’ll be happy to listen,” Schild said.