Fine arts survey will remain a required course for graduation at Riverside-Brookfield High School, but it will become easier to opt out of the class by taking other fine arts classes.

Last week after about an hour of discussion the District 208 Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to approve creating a waiver of the fine arts survey graduation requirement. The precise waiver or waivers will be established by school administrators after school board members had issues with the two waiver options presented by the administration at the Nov. 13 Board of Education meeting.

Board member John Keen cast the only vote against creating the waiver, saying he did not think the Fine Arts Survey class should be a graduation requirement.

“I don’t think it should be compulsory at all, and that’s just my personal opinion,” Keen said after meeting. “There’s too many other options.”

Currently students must take at least one credit in fine arts to graduate and must also take the half-credit, semester-long fine arts survey class unless they can pass a proficiency test to waive it. That test has a very low pass rate. The fine arts graduation requirement will remain at one credit.

Fine arts survey is an introduction to the arts, focusing on music, visual arts, dance and theater. The class emphasizes the creative process.

Fine Arts faculty members are passionate about the class and are generally opposed to making it easier for students to waive the class.

Music teacher James Baum, an alumnus who took fine arts survey when he was a student, spoke to school board during the public comment portion of the Nov. 13 meeting and implored the board not to adopt a waiver policy for the class.

Baum said that as a student he was focused on music and did not want to take fine arts survey, but looking back he is glad that he was required to take it.

“Fine arts survey changed my perspective of the other arts and thus my perspective of the world around me,” Baum said. “Not only did I learn about each discipline of art and how to think in that art form’s way of knowing, but I learned how all the arts are interconnected thus deepening my understanding of music.”

However, board members were concerned that it was easier to waive out of other graduation requirements, such as the course in global area studies or the physical education requirement, than it is to waive out of the fine arts survey.

“I think we need to have the same consistency that we do in other requirements,” said board member Laura Hruska.

Hruska and other board members also expressed concern that some students had difficulty fitting fine arts survey into their schedules.

“You shouldn’t be making people like my daughter have to take summer school to get this thing out of the way,” Keen said.

Some students told the school board that they opposed granting a waiver for fine arts survey, saying that the class was valuable and helps foster respect for the arts at the school.

But freshman Colin Hughes told the board that he was in favor of allowing students to waive out of the class if they took other fine arts classes.

After the meeting Hughes was pleased by the board vote.

“I’m glad the board was able to come together and make a decision,” Hughes said. “I think this really shows what discussion and good planning can do.”

Fine Arts Division Chairwoman Diane Marelli was disappointed by the board’s decision and their discussion.

“Fine arts survey … is an interesting, interactive course that should not be thought of as something to “get out of the way,'” Marelli said in an emailed statement. “RBHS develops balanced, well-rounded students.”

Baum also was disappointed by the vote.

“I don’t know if the teachers’ voices are being heard in general,” Baum said.

History and social sciences teacher John Fields agreed with that sentiment and said that teachers on the committee never recommended any waiver of the fine arts survey requirement.

“At no point during any of the graduation requirements committee meetings were teachers asked their opinions on any of the topics covered,” Fields said. “The notion that the committee suggested any such waiver is totally false and hurtful to those teachers who served on the committee.”

Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said it was natural that fine arts faculty would defend their course, and that he did not wish to pit departments and faculty members against each other.

“Every teacher recognizes the importance of their class,” Skinkis said. “Every teacher can show it can be cross-curricular, that it can teach critical thinking and that it can be applied to real life skills. We probably have 100 classes, if not 400 classes on the books that can teach all of those life skills.”

Board members emphasized that fine arts survey would remain a requirement.

“We’re not saying that fine arts are bad,” said board member Tim Walsh.

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