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City Schools of Decatur tells parents to pay for IB, AP exams after saying it would be optional

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City Schools of Decatur tells parents to pay for IB, AP exams after saying it would be optional

Decatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.

Decatur, GA — Families of City Schools of Decatur students who take advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes were told they’d pay for their exams this year, despite being told that paying for the exams was optional this school year.

School officials have apologized for the confusion and proposed a plan to correct the mistake.

On Nov. 3, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman and Decatur High School Principal Rochelle Lofstrand emailed parents admitting that the district had said paying for exams this year was optional “even though it was not, in fact ‘optional.'”

Most families paid the fees, the email said. The district said it would make amends by covering fees for families that haven’t paid and offering refunds to families who did pay after the students take their exam.

The cost of the IB exam is $119 per exam, and students in Decatur High School’s IB diploma program take seven exams during their senior year. Those in the IB career-related program take two exams. Families would pay up to about $833 if their child took all seven exams.

The cost of AP exams is $96 per test.

Parents say the district should have communicated with them sooner about the exam fees.

Emily Howard is the parent of a senior who is taking AP and IB courses. The first time she was informed by the school about the exam fees was in September, when Lofstrand said all families have the option to pay for exams this year. Within the last couple of days, she has since learned that the fees are not optional.

“The first one was incredibly frustrating because it was September of our senior year,” Howard said. “This was a little frustrating, but it said we had the option to pay for the exams. Once you’re in that track, you take these tests. It’s part of the package. I’m like okay, I’m not paying, my son is a senior. I have a seventh grader who, if she goes through this track, we’ll pay for the tests. We’ll know ahead of time that that’s what the policies are.”

“If they knew putting the budget together that there was going to be an issue around this, that should have been part of that initial conversation, not in September and then again in November,” Howard added.

She was surprised when getting another email on Nov. 2 that said fees were added to the parent portal and had to be paid by Nov. 14.

“It was a huge change,” Howard said.

She worried about the cost of the tests.

“For a lot of families, that’s an enormous amount of money to come up with so quickly. It opens the divide between the haves and have-nots in Decatur,” Howard said. “The timeframe to figure out what the next steps are is too short.”

She thought the school district did not take responsibility for the situation in the Nov. 3 email sent by Fehrman and Lofstrand.

The school district has provided confusing messages about the exam fees for months.

“The frustrating part for me is that I feel like the school system often does things hoping that nobody will notice,” Howard said. “This is not the first [time] and then when all the parents get upset, then they’re like, ‘Really, what we meant was…'”

In February, Lofstrand presented a plan to the Decatur School Board to phase in shifting the cost to families. For the class of 2023, she suggested that students choose whether they will take each exam. If they registered for the exam, but did not take it, they would have to reimburse the district for the cost of the exam. The class of 2024 and beyond would incur the cost of the exams, with financial support available.

On Sept. 7, Lofstrand emailed families informing them that families have the option to pay for AP and IB exams this school year, and in the 2023-2024 school year, families will have to pay for the registration and assessments, with financial support available.

The Sept. 7 email presented the following plan:

2022-2023 School Year:

— All families have the option to pay for the exams this year at $97 per AP test and $119 per IB exam. Fees will be added to the parent portal. Payment plans and scholarships will be available. Contact Ms. Lofstrand at [email protected] for this support.

2023-2024 School Year and Beyond:

— Families will incur the cost of AP/IB registration and assessments, with financial support available.

During the Sept. 13 school board meeting, students and parents asked the district to reconsider a decision to shift to families incurring the cost of AP and IB exams.

Lofstrand held a principal’s town hall on Oct. 6 where she discussed the exam fees. She had previously made a budget request for $250,000 to cover the cost of the exams. Lofstrand said at the town hall that the line item of $250,000 is not in the district’s fiscal year 2023 budget.

The school board again discussed the exam fees during the Oct. 11 board meeting. The board decided to stick with its decision and will consider looking at the fee structure next year.

On Nov. 2, Rasheeda Salaam Tolbert, AP test coordinator, emailed AP/IB year two families about updates to the fees. She wrote that fees for IB exams are due on Nov. 14 and fees for AP exams are due on Nov. 30. The email did not state the payments were optional.

“When families finally received communication in September, our messaging stated that families had the ‘option’ to pay for exams, and this contributed to misunderstanding: some did not pay because it was described as ‘optional’ – even though it was not, in fact ‘optional.’ Most families paid their exam fees,” the Nov. 3 email from Fehrman and Lofstrand says.

The Nov. 3 email says the cost of the exams has been an ongoing conversation within CSD.

“The conversation about deferring the cost of IB/AP assessments to families has come up multiple times in the past several years,” the email states. “Early in developing the FY23 budget, the Board heard a presentation developed by the high school administration, Curriculum and Instruction, Equity, and Finance Departments. The presentation recommended shifting the cost of testing fees to families. However, the decision was made last spring to transfer the full cost of AP/IB fees effective this year, and to allocate approximately $10,000 to a scholarship fund to cover testing fees for students with financial hardships.”

In the Nov. 3 email, Fehrman and Lofstrand outlined how they will work to resolve the issue:

— If you have not paid for your child’s exam fees and do not wish to pay the fees, please contact Ms. Lofstrand so she can process the necessary paperwork for the district to cover the cost.

— If you paid the exam fee and would like a refund, you can request a refund after your student takes the associated IB/AP exam. CSD will only refund parents for the cost of exams that were taken. If you paid for an exam and your child does not take the exam, CSD will not refund the parent/guardian for the untaken test. CSD will email a form to parents/guardians to complete during the testing window to request a refund once testing participation is confirmed.

“Additionally, as students this year make class and program decisions for next school year this autumn and spring, we are committed to providing timely and accurate information about any associated testing fees,” the email says. “Again, we apologize for these errors in communication, and we hope this resolution and commitment to improvement are acceptable.”

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