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DC schools may nix high school government class as a requirement

Public high school students in the nation’s capital may soon be able to graduate without taking a single U.S. government course.

The D.C. State Board of Education proposed changes to the graduation requirements in December that would require students to take more physical education, art and music courses instead.  

The proposal, put forward to combat declining graduation rates in the District, where fewer than two-thirds of high school students earn a diploma, would also require students to write a thesis and raise the total number of required credits in D.C. public schools from 24 to 26 -- more than students need to earn diplomas in many other states, according to the National Center for Graduation Statistics

Some of the new requirements -- specifically nixing the need for a government course -- have drawn the ire of advocates for civics education.

Patrick Mara, who represents Ward 1 on the school board, believes a majority of the nine-member board won't back the proposal. 

"This is one of those things that looks great on paper, and it's very well-intentioned, but it goes without saying that U.S. government should be a requirement in the District of Columbia," Mara said. 

Mara said he would "certainly vote against" the proposal if it came to a vote anytime soon.

Other key changes to students' current graduation requirements in the proposal include making students take an additional unit of physical education, which can include organized extracurricular sports. Students would also have to do an additional 67.5 hours of physical activity each semester for all four years of high school.

In a letter to the board, an eight-person group representing several public schools in D.C. said it objected to the proposal for several reasons, including the physical activity requirement, saying it would be susceptible to fraudulent submissions for credit.

"We agree that students should be engaged in physical activity at all points of education, but the benefits of making it a graduation requirement do not outweigh the costs," the letter said. "Administering a tracking program for that level of detail of activity, especially if independent of an organization like a sports team, would be extremely burdensome."

Board members have said these specific changes were suggested in an effort to address health problems among D.C. children, including high rates of obesity and diabetes. 

"I think this is an opportunity for the State Board of Education to think through what it is we're doing with these graduation requirements," Mara said. "Some of these things, while they may seem sound, are at the end of the day impacting the lives of young adults, and we need to we've brought in enough stakeholders into this discussion to have a positive impact."