Sodus superintendent says holding students back not a viable option after warning letters to 42 parents stirs controversy

Earlier this week community members sounded off about ‘mandated’ summer school for middle school students in the Sodus Central School District. A letter to parents explained that the district would host a mandatory summer school program for students who were failing two or more subjects.

FingerLakes1.com reported on the letter, but did not publish it in its entirety. “This summer, we are hosting mandatory Summer School for students who are currently in grades 6, 7, & 8. You are receiving this communication because your child is currently failing 2 or more subjects and must attend,” the letter began. “This is the first year of MANDATORY Summer School for 6th- 8th grade students, and they will be held accountable to it. If students choose not to attend summer school, there will be a loss of privileges the following year and an extended school day to ensure closure of all academic gaps.”

Parents said that beyond the implication of short-notice, mandatory summer school, which will last five weeks through the heart of summer- the tone of the letter was difficult to take without being frustrated. “We have jobs, plans, vacations, and lives,” one parent told FingerLakes1.com after the initial story was published. “I’m not sure what they expect families to do- even if they would like their children to benefit from summer school and get caught up.”




Sodus CSD is calling it ‘Summer Academy’ and involve certified teachers from Sodus, according to the letter to parents and guardians. “This summer program runs for five weeks, Monday through Thursday, from July 12th through August 12th. The program occurs on campus and will run from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Transportation, breakfast, and lunch will be provided by the District for all students,” the letter added.”

There were a range of follow-up concerns, which parents had about the program itself- as well as the way district officials communicated what was happening. “The tone of the letter felt threatening,” another parent told FingerLakes1.com. Many parents reached out to the newsroom after the first story was published. However, most asked not to be identified.
Sodus Superintendent Nelson Kise said there was much more to this story than met the eye- signaling that perhaps, if nothing else, messaging could have been better when district officials connected with parents, guardians, and community members about the academic issue.

Speaking to the practicality of a five-week program- Kise says the program will hold students accountable- as the letter suggested. “We will be running a 5-week summer school program specifically designed for middle level students who failed two or more classes during the 20-21 school year,” he said in an email to FingerLakes1.com answering a range of questions on the matter. “It is our responsibility to ensure that students are as prepared as possible for the next grade level and summer school is an effective strategy that we have and will continue to use here in Sodus. Our principal used very strong language in the letter that was sent to parents. Warning letters were sent out recently to all parents of students at risk of failing 2 or more classes. We remain hopeful that most of these students will be able to make significant progress and pass these classes before the end of the school year. We realize that some parents may either refuse to send their child or be unable to for a variety of reasons. If this is the case, the student will then be required to attend an after-school program at the start of the 21-22 school year designed to help close any identified learning gaps.”

He said no matter what, any student who failed two or more subjects this school year will be required to engage in some form of extra learning, whether it be the summer program- or one that begins at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Kise said 42 of these ‘warning letters’ went out to parents, who had students failing two- or more classes. “Please know these are just warning letters,” the superintendent explained. “Any student who is cutting it close in terms of passing for the year received the warning letter. It is our belief that many of these students will be ok and pass but we believe this advanced communication is very important.”

One question many district residents asked, involved the possibility of simply holding students back if they have failed two or more subjects- and are unable to attend summer school. “Students will not be held back. When our principal mentioned loss of privileges, he was referring to how being mandated to attend an after-school program will impact a student’s ability to engage in after-school activities. For example, if a student must attend the after-school academic program, he/she may not be able to attend certain club activities that are scheduled during the same time. Hence, our desire to have students attend the summer program,” Kise added.

Speaking to that debate- as to whether simply hold back a student if they have not met the requirements to advance to the next level- district officials said it wasn’t really a viable option.

“Retention is only a viable option at the middle level, in our opinion, in rare circumstances,” Kise explained. “It is our desire to support our students during summer school and/or after-school programming so that students can remain on track for graduation with their classmates. We do not intend to retain any of the students who received the letter. However, it is our intention to do our absolute best to make sure that they acquire the skills that will ensure their continued success over their remaining school years.”

He said the district will be more than happy to work through individual situations with families. “If a family is unable to send their child, we will gladly work with them but their child will then have to attend the after-school program beginning in September. We operate from a culture of collaboration and respect here in Sodus and are happy to meet with any parent to discuss their particular situation. We have always worked with our parents as we all want the same thing; for Sodus children to learn, grow, and be prepared for life after graduation,” he explained.

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