School board approves controversial Option ii restrictions

WW-P Board of Education President Anthony Fleres (second from right) speaks at the board’s December 9 meeting.  The board voted 6 to 2 to approve a series of changes to the district’s Option ii program, which allows students to take courses outside WW-P classrooms. —Michael Bamford

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education approved a series of new restrictions on the controversial Option ii program at a packed meeting at Community Middle School on December 9.  Concerned students and parents piled into the CMS cafeteria, where some delivered two-minute speeches during the public comment phase of the meeting.

The changes to Option ii, a state program through which WW-P students earn credits during school vacations, included two polarizing new rules: students can earn credit through only one Option ii course per year, compared to two previously, and through only one course in a given subject area in their entire high school career.

Seven juniors from High School South gave speeches to express their opinions, and most of them argued the revisions should not be passed.  The students told stories about their personal experiences with Option ii, with some complaining that the new regulations, which go into effect immediately, will derail scheduling plans they designed before freshman year.

However, one South junior, Shuwei Ji, spoke in favor of the changes, saying that “an in-district full year course will give the student a lot more than just studying on your own with an online course.”

“For example, in art class in school you do sculptures and drawings, you don’t just learn art theories as you would in an option ii course,” Ji added.

Many parents with students in the district spoke at the meeting, including Catherine Foley, a proponent of the changes.  “I have been concerned about the climate of hyper-competitiveness in the district, and many parents are concerned that because so many students are doing Option ii, their children will fall behind if they do not do the same,” Foley said.

On the other side, some parents voiced their concerns about restrictions they say will limit student opportunity.  “There is a problem that some people are abusing Option ii,” district parent Jian Jiao said.  “But we should address the problem, not limit it for all students.  We have a lot of smart students in this district, and Option ii gives them the opportunity to pursue whatever they love.”

After hearing the public comments, board members spoke about the changes and then voted.  Board member Michele Kaish provided examples of other schools in the state that are ranked higher than both North and South, saying they, for the most part, allow students to take Option ii classes only for personal enrichment, not credits.  “Clearly, to me Option ii is not what makes great schools great,” Kaish said.

The Board voted six to two in favor of the changes.

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