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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

After deciding in December to allow a grade of credit or no credit to be issued in secondary physical education classes, Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) is now leaving the door open when it comes to students being able to receive a letter grade.

During a CUSD Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20, trustees decided to revisit the grade policy during a Feb. 17 meeting, with an eye toward allowing students to earn an A letter grade if they worked to receive such.

The designation of credit or no credit in place of letter grades is in line with the district’s “do no harm” approach, as students may struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, and was specifically instituted for secondary physical education since students reportedly had difficulty with online P.E. classes under the APEX management system. Most families rated APEX as ineffective, according to a December district staff report.

The reconsideration was brought forth by Trustee Amy Hanacek.

“I think in all good faith, in December, we were thinking about a group of young people who have been very challenged,” Hanacek said. “I don’t think all the voices of all the children—young people—were heard, as well as many, if not most, of our educators who pride themselves on nurturing the best they can out of their students.”

Hanacek said she is not looking to overturn the credit/no credit evaluation, but rather wants to add a choice for students to again receive an A when they work “super, super hard.”

“I’ve been hearing stories about (students) who were Ds, and then all of the sudden they got the A,” Hanacek said. “Also, if we don’t do this, we have the superintendent’s honors roll. Even though grades don’t necessarily affect some things, it affects that.”

Michele Ploessel-Campbell, a legislative advocate for Capistrano Unified Council of PTSA, also urged the board to consider student voices when determining grading policy.

“Many felt robbed of acknowledgement when letter grades changed to credit/no credit at the last minute,” Ploessel-Campbell said. “While I recognize that credit/no credit works for many, it did not fit for all, so I kindly ask that you bring back to review the temporary grading policy in physical education—to consider giving students the option to either have a letter grade, or credit or no credit.”

Trustee Martha McNicholas said the timing at the end of last year was not ideal for instituting the option of allowing letter grades, and the credit/no credit evaluation was an issue she wanted to bring up in October.

“If you want to blame someone for bringing this forward, I was probably one of the instigators of that,” McNicholas said. “I’m also taking credit for being one of the people that approved the APEX curriculum for P.E. last spring, and that was horrible. Again—some of our rock-star P.E. teachers—some of them stuck to it as much as they hated it and really tried and really encouraged the kids, and others threw it out the window and did something better.”

Middle school P.E. teachers generally want to be able to provide students an A grade if they earn it, according to Susan Holliday, Chief Administrative Officer of Education and Support Services.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at

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