Emma Ellis (left) and Abigail Heck (right) speak at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. Photo: Alek Lewis

Two rising seniors at Riverhead High School expressed their frustration to the Board of Education about last-minute class scheduling conflicts, which they only learned about a week before school begins and that they say will impact their college application prospects.

The students said the scheduling issue was caused by a number of high-level, in-demand courses being scheduled at the same time, and that their peers are facing similar scheduling conflicts. Their comments come as the district begins to offer 32 new elective courses in the high school and transitions from an eight-period day to a nine-period day in the new school year.

“It appears that many of the weighted electives and extra classes I was intending to take are running on the same periods as core classes that dropping are not an option,” said Abigail Heck, a rising senior who aspires to go to medical school. “I’ve worked on constructing a high GPA all throughout high school and I can’t sacrifice it to take classes to simply go to spots with regular electives.”

Heck said she was originally taking ten classes, but is now only scheduled to take six because of the conflict, which also caused her to drop certain electives. The scheduling conflict leaves her with having to fill three-and-a-half free periods with only a week until school resumes, she said. She said she only found out about the conflict on Monday from her guidance counselor.  

“Ever since the middle school, it seems that the school has boasted a robust AP [advanced placement] program and other internal opportunities to earn college credit for students,” she said. “Now it appears that we are left with the skeleton of this, since everything only has one section [time slot], all of which are running on the same class periods.”

“As students at the top of the senior class, we’re supposed to be the face of the school, representing the success that can be produced by our district,” Heck said. “But these issues have more than frustrated myself and others. It feels as if I’m being punished for wanting to excel and take a rigorous course load my senior year, and especially applying to college, it’s going to be seen as taking the easy way out, due to the drop off in challenging courses that I’m taking.”

Heck said the return of the nine-period day was meant to add opportunities for students, but it has left students like her “out to dry.”

Students taking AP courses are also tasked with lengthy summer assignments in preparation for their courses, “but it doesn’t seem fair for students to have to complete these long assignments to not even have a guaranteed spot in the class,” Heck said.

“And this is an entirely avoidable issue, as schedules could have been sent out much earlier so that these issues could have been resolved and taken care of before school starts,” Heck said.

Heck has now applied to the early college program at Suffolk County Community College to try to fill the gap in her schedule.

Emma Ellis, another rising senior, said she is facing similar problems going into the new school year.

“It was brought to my attention this morning that due to some scheduling conflicts myself and many other seniors have to choose between taking some completely different classes,” Ellis said. “In my case, I have to choose between taking French 5 or AP Calculus BC, which are completely different classes.”

“I find it ridiculous that we are presented with making these difficult choices just because we wish to take more challenging classes,” she said. “As seniors, we should be able to take the class when we want to and we should be the first priority when it comes to scheduling classes. I shouldn’t have to rearrange my schedule to drop classes I love or take classes I don’t want to take.”

Ellis was also forced to drop electives due to the scheduling conflict. She said she wasn’t speaking to the board just to complain about her own scheduling issues, “but rather to shed light on the entire situation, as I’m definitely not the only person affected by this.”

“I don’t understand why it’s a week before school begins and this issue is just coming up to my attention now,” Ellis said. “It’s extremely disappointing to me that scheduling does not take place earlier in the summer so that there is more time to solve issues should they arise. And this needs to change.”

Tornatore apologized to the two students for their scheduling conflicts. He acknowledged that there were a lot of single-section courses, and that makes it a “challenge” for the staff putting together schedules. He urged both students to work with the high school principal and the district’s director of guidance, and to reach out with him if the issue is not resolved by next week.

Trustee Virginia Healy said the staff has to pay more attention, especially when it comes to high-level language courses and courses required for graduation at the AP level. 

Trustee Christopher Dorr suggested that rising seniors get first priority in organizing their schedules closer to February, which is when he said scheduling starts for the next school year, and give them a draft at the end of their junior year to correct if necessary.

“I do think that’s a great idea,” Torantore said. “I think that part of the complexity for this past year was the nine-period day and all the new courses that are being offered. But certainly moving forward, I will be able to work with Dr. Galati [assistant superintendent] and Mr. O’Hara [high school principal] and Mr. Gassar [director of guidance] to see how we could kind of change the procedures so that we could really take a look at supporting our incoming seniors so they are able to schedule sooner and to have a clearer picture as to what’s available.”

Trustee Colin Palmer empathized with the students. He said he was also unable to take AP classes when he attended the high school because they were scheduled at the same time.

“Obviously, you two are very self-motivated students,” Palmer said. “The fact that you came up and spoke to us proves that.”

He asked the students if it would help if, in coming years, seniors had an alternative class program that was more “independent” and “less structured.”

“Yeah. I would definitely say it depends on what type of class,” Heck said. “However, if I was offered the opportunity to have some sort of less structured period, as opposed to dropping a class, it would definitely be something I wouldn’t be opposed to looking into.”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com