I apologize in advance for the long backstory but it seems best to share this as a narrative:
Back in the fall, I’d heard that, at Rolling Meadows High School, the financial education class had been cut from a full semester to an 9 week class, with the remaining half of the semester taken up by study hall, but at the time a parent mentioned this to me, I had other things going on. Then in February, I checked in with my son’s counselor, who confirmed this, though she had no explanation why, and I went to a board meeting.
At the meeting, I asked three questions:
First, I asked why the class was cut down from a semester to a quarter class.
Second, I asked what content was removed when this change was made.
And third, I asked why this change was made only at Meadows, not at the other district schools.
I asked for a written response and, indeed, I got one, in early March — though “response” is the correct word to use, as it was literally a response rather than an answer.
Dr. Schuler replied to Question One by stating that the there was no change in the Academic Guidebook, which is literally true. (There is a listing of a .25 credit and a .5 credit option in the Guidebook, but that has nothing to do with which classes are offered at any given school.)
He responded to Question Two by asserting that both classes meet state standards, which, again, does not actually address my question of the differences in content between the two classes. He further claimed that AP Econ also covers the state standards, but, as a side issue, my middle son informed me that no such financial education material was taught in that class.
He responded to Question Three by stating that “All three-course options are, and have been, available to students but may be limited in availability any given year due to student enrollment or staffing due to course scheduling conflicts.” This was the most absurd answer of the three because it was not only a red herring but it was patently untrue — my son’s counselor told me (and other parents confirmed) that the class was simply no longer being offered, not available to register for but with the potential for being dropped due to low enrollment.
In the meantime, at the board meeting, Dr. Laz Lopez, assistant superintendent, asserted that both the half- and full-semester options are offered at all the schools. I immediately forwarded him the e-mail from my son’s counselor stating that the full-semester class is no longer available, and he replied that he would look into this. I never heard back. After I received the letter from Dr. Schuler, I e-mailed him again, again stating that, despite the claim otherwise, no full-semester option is available at Meadows, and asking for any further comments. I received no reply.
Finally, hoping that contacting an individual board member would be more effective than an e-mail to all board members (which seems to enable each of them to believe it’s other members’ responsibility to reply), I e-mailed Millie Palmer expressing my disappointment with Schuler’s reply and asking for her help in getting information on why the class was cut in half. The only reply I received from her was, an hour before the next board meeting, an excuse that she had been busy with personal issues.
Coming up empty, I then sent a FOIA request to the district asking for all e-mails related to the issue. The FOIA officer replied that their initial search produced 30,000 documents, leaving me to believe that she had done a search for “finance” — which would no doubt have produced any document about the district’s finances, and which was patently absurd. After a bit more back-and-forth, they agreed to do a more limited search, with still fairly scanty results, justified because of FOIA exemptions:
- An e-mail from a school administrator, in March of 2021, about a credit recovery option in the spring via Edgenuity for students who failed Personal Finance.
- A notification sent in April 2021 to certain parents that for 2021 – 2022 Buffalo Grove was replacing Personal Finance with the .25 credit Consumer Education; for those students who need the full .5 credit to graduate, they were being scheduled for Economics, a .5 credit class which meets the requirement (even though it doesn’t appear to cover Personal Finance material), and a similar notification to the remaining students planning to take the Personal Finance class that they will have no problem meeting graduation requirements.
- An e-mail that online Consumer Education would be double-counted for both ELA and CTE as needed to meet graduation requirements.
- An e-mail to parents (or, rather, a draft of an e-mail circulated by the Assistant Principal) at Meadows on May 18, 2021, informing them that their child’s course would be changed from Personal Finance to Consumer Education, with the explanation that “This adjustment will allow District 214 students to meet the State of Illinois Consumer Education requirement more efficiently.”
- An e-mail from last October, 2021, from a Buffalo Grove teacher to the Principal asking that the staff reconsider the change that had previously occurred there, in which the class had been cut from a semester to a quarter. He wrote, “There is a lot of great and relevant content in the class and although the State minimum is 9 weeks it should be more. . . . Laz, I know you said Personal Finance is an option but I was told that it is only for a few kids and that generally kids could not be placed in that class.”
- My own e-mail, from Feb. 10, to my son’s counselor, as forwarded to the Assistant Principal, and then from there to the Principal, simply stating “FYI.”
- My own e-mail to Ms. Palmer, again, written on March 12 with her reply and promise to “review as time permits” on March 17. It turns out she did forward this to Schuler on March 21, asking why the change was made. He forwarded this to Lopez and the Principal stating “I thought this was a creative option for students. No rush. Could either of you provide some insight as to whether this was designed as a flexible option for students or if this is the only option for students?”
Remember, this is after he sent a reply to me in which he asserted that both options remain!
- The reply from Lopez, on March 22. “It’s my understanding that RM does offer Personal Finance however it’s targeting IEP students. Also AP Econ teachers met and agreed that they will instruct Consumer Ed topics. If that is not the case, then we need to revisit with that team. . . . The initial reason for the addition of Consumer Education was to allow for increased flexibility in the schedule to access other electives.”
This is preposterous. Students are scheduled into a 9 week study hall. They are not offered any options of other electives during this time.
So what does this add up to?
Schools are switching from Personal Finance to Consumer Ed with no explicable reason why and with teachers objecting. The administration does not seem to know about it, or does not seem to care. Certainly with all the reports of teenagers signing on to student loans and tuition commitments well in excess of what they can afford, it should be pretty clear that financial education matters deeply. What’s more, it is not at all clear what the benefit of cutting the full-semester option might be — did the staff simply decide that students should have a half-semester extra study hall whether they ask for it or not? Is it a cost-saving measure (you can have more kids in a study hall than in a consumer ed class?) that can’t be acknowledged as such because it violates a union agreement?
And on top of this — either Dr. Schuler showed so little respect for me, specifically, as to respond to my questions without making the slightest effort to understand the facts of the matter so as to provide an accurate answer, or he has so little respect for community members, in general, as to have issued a standing directive to an assistant to do likewise, and her merely signs letters with no knowledge of or interest in their contents.
But whatever it is, that is actually going on, the district owes parents a truthful explanation and we, as parents, must hold them to account.
— Authored by Elizabeth Bauer
Image from public domain.