The San Diego Unified school board balked at letting a school add a class in which students tutor other children with special needs, worrying that it might not be a real, academically rigorous class.

“I would prefer for a student to be in a class that is for that student, academically” instead of devoting time to helping other students, said school board President Shelia Jackson.

Classes are vetted by a committee of teachers and school district managers who review and recommend new courses for final approval by the school board. But Superintendent Terry Grier and his deputy superintendent, Chuck Morris, have repeatedly questioned whether the committee properly screens all courses. The sheer number of courses, Morris has argued, makes it difficult to ensure that classes are uniformly difficult across schools in different neighborhoods.

“It has just gotten totally out of hand,” Morris said.

Sally Smith, a mother at Serra High School and a member of the school district advisory committee on federal money for disadvantaged students, argued that the Peer Tutoring class and other like it were “phantom classes” that allowed high schools to shoehorn teens into doing the work of employees. She named two other such classes, Library Practice and Dynamics of Peer Counseling, as examples.

“They look good on paper,” she said. “But that’s not how it’s happening on the schedule.”

One Serra High graduate, Ana Camarillo, described her Library Practice class last year as “kind of boring.” The course description reads, “This course familiarizes students with the organization and operation of a school library media center.” But Camarillo recalled answering phones in the school office, doing homework and filling out envelopes for mass mailings. Camarillo said there were no tests and no homework. Her counselor gave her an A — she wasn’t sure for what.

“I was like, are you sure this is a class? Seriously?” Camarillo said. Her counselor had given her a choice between physical education, which she had already taken, and the library class.

Similar courses such as Orientation of Office Practice and tutoring classes were deleted from the list of approved courses in 2004, but several similar classes persist at individual schools, Smith has argued. Jackson’s motion on Tuesday night to approve a slew of new courses, but not the tutoring class, passed unanimously. School board member John de Beck abstained from the vote.


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