For the third school year in a row, the Las Virgenes Unified School District will not require high school students to perform community service.
The district’s board members may at some point consider dropping the requirement altogether.
The unanimous vote at a recent board meeting came after student representatives told school officials that teens are having trouble finding volunteer opportunities during the pandemic.
“As someone who has been looking for opportunities for service learning, it is so limited at this time,” said Bella Bernt, who explained that the only option she’s seen consistently is working in her school’s cafeteria.
“And that’s only 30 minutes, which is such a limited time,” she said. “There’s already so many other requirements that I feel if this was taken away, it would help with a lot of people’s anxiety and just make this school year a lot easier for a lot of people.”
When the requirement is in force, students must perform 15 hours of community service per academic year.
Another issue with the community service program is its oversight, board members said.
At the end of their service learning, students are required to provide a reflection on the experience, which can be in the form of a written essay, an oral report to a teacher or staff member, or a presentation to a class or school group.
“I do think the back end of this program is very cumbersome for staff,” board member Kate Vadehra said. “It is a full-time job for someone to look through all those (written) reflections.”
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Gleason suggested that the board might consider how or if it wants to continue the service requirement.
“Whenever we have a disruption like this, I think it’s healthy to look at the system itself and ask what makes sense moving forward,” he said.
At a date to be determined, the board will consider changing or dropping the requirement.
The service learning policy was adopted by the district in 2001.
“The Governing Board recognizes that student involvement in community service enhances academic outcomes, helps students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become informed and responsible citizens, and aids in individual career developments,” the policy says.
Some board members seemed to be in favor of moving to a voluntary program that would recognize students for their service with a seal on their diploma. Others disagreed.
Board member Dallas Lawrence said he was saddened and disappointed at the idea.
“I remember when we passed this with much pomp and circumstance and pride in the fact where it spoke to our cultural values in the community that we were going to be making this a graduation requirement,” Lawrence said. “We thought it was something that was just a core element of the caliber of the students we want to pass out of our doors, and I think . . . we’ve seen in the last 18 months we need more of this in America, not less.”
Instilling such values doesn’t have to come from a required volunteer program, board president Angela Cutbill said.
“I think the way that we make community-involved citizens of our students is the values we embed in the classroom, in the curriculum, in the activities we provide them,” Cutbill said.
While the policy discussion will continue, the waiving of service hours for the current school year took effect immediately.