H-F students call out denial of PE waiver as discriminatory

Note: Additional information from a H-F High official Carla Erdey added at 2:40 p.m. Thursday, May 23.

Students in the automotive program at Homewood-Flossmoor High School whose requests for PE waivers were rejected by administrators argued to the school board that its policy is biased against them.

Juniors Oliver Stickney, Mason Kleinfelder and Ross Torian and sophomore Charley Dieringer appealed to the District 233 school board during its meeting Tuesday, May 21, pointing out the inconsistency in the current policy which Dieringer called “discriminatory and inequitable.”

Students in the International Baccalaureate Program, open to the top students at H-F, are granted PE waivers so that they can make time in their schedules for additional classes. Yet the automotive students, who want to take as many classes as possible to enhance their skills for the job market, were not eligible for a PE waiver, they told the board. They had waivers this year.

Dieringer asked why the administration wouldn’t extend the waiver for auto students next year. 

“Why are we not giving students an equal opportunity? What differentiates an IB student from an automotive student? Denying automotive students PE waivers implies our education is less valuable than IB education. This disparity undermines our efforts and limits our potential to grow in our fields.”

H-F Director of Communications Carla Erdey explained after the meeting that “the two groups of students are in different scenarios based on the requirements of their programs.”

The automotive curriculum allows for students to start a sequence in freshman year and take electives along with PE. The IB students “cannot complete the six required IB courses determined by the IB
organization to earn an IB diploma without receiving a PE waiver,” she said.

Three of the students are already working and argue the physical labor required of them on the job should be recognized as meeting any gym requirements.

The students credit the extracurricular Auto Club with helping them prepare for the work world and their classes in the automotive program with giving them the hands-on training they used to get their jobs.

“All I am asking for is my request to be reviewed once more because time is our most valuable asset, and I want to make sure I use it to create the best possible future for myself,” Kleinfelder said. 

“I received a PE waiver (this year) and took Automotive Electrical, Career Internship Automotive and Management in Electrical. Having these 3 classes allowed me to work on the Auto Club’s 2002 Chevy Suburban,” Stickney told the board. 

“From September to the end of April me and two other classmates who also received PE waivers installed the entire drivetrain on the Suburban, including the transmission and transfer case, rebuilt the entire engine, rebuilt the full brake system, re-did the entire fuel system, as well as install other miscellaneous aftermarket parts ourselves while receiving instruction from (teacher Ben May) on the fine details and intricacies to ensure it was done correctly,” Stickney said.

With his skills, Stickney has had three jobs as a student, including at an exotic car shop in Naperville where he’s worked on six-figure cars. 

Torian told board members: “As a student with a keen interest in continuing to work in the automotive industry, I find this denial (of a waiver) almost absurd. During this school year, I was granted a PE waiver along with a few other students in my class, and we accomplished many tasks with the extra class period” working to rebuild the Suburban.

“Every day, I felt like I was accomplishing more within the class, giving me a sense of pride,” Torian added. “I found myself to be productive this year with the PE waiver, feeling that my time was better spent, rather than within a class where I have felt a lack of accomplishment.” 

School board members listened to each student’s story and thanked them for their presentations. Decisions on policy changes are not made at board meetings. They first must be vetted by the H-F administrative team and brought before the board’s Planning Committee before any change is made.

Board member Nate Legardy said the issue had been before the Planning Committee. He told the students, “We’ll revisit this only because of your efforts.”  

Board member Pam Jackson said the students “really hit the salient points” in their presentations.

“It is clear how much this means to you,” member Michelle Hoereth said.

This year, the number of waivers dropped from 250 to about 28. H-F Principal Clinton Alexander said the students had come to him for waivers, but the current policy doesn’t include automotive, so he denied their requests. The policy allows for waivers to athletes, students trying to make up academic deficiencies, students in the IB program and seasonal waivers for members of the H-F Viking Marching Band.

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