AP History Students in Virginia High School Forbidden to Research Outside Classroom

Parents calls new rule for high school students "ridiculous."

BySarah Netter
October 19, 2010, 1:14 PM

Oct. 20, 2020— -- Students in one Virginia history course will have to take what they learn in the classroom at face value, as their teachers forbid the use of any outside resources, including conversations with their parents.

A form titled "Expectations of Integrity" that went home to all parents of students in Westfield High School's AP World History course threatens disciplinary action and a failing grade for students who go beyond class handouts, their own notes or their textbook for information for their assignments, unless a teacher specifically directs them to do so.

"You may not use/access/refer to/peruse/skim/look at ANY Internet sites or Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Brittanica Online or any other reference site available online, including the Westfield High School databases to help you answer questions," the form read.

Students were told they were also not allowed to "discuss/mention/chat/hand signal/smoke signal/Facebook/IM/text/e-mail" their parents, friends, classmates, relatives or "complete strangers" on any questions, opinions or ideas relating to the coursework.

"Shocked. Absolutely shocked," Westfield High School parent Amy Fuentes said of her reaction to the form, which she refused to sign and send back to school with her 15-year-old daughter. "And disgusted at the same time."

The research regulations, new this year, are a collaborative effort developed by all those who teach the AP World History course, the only college-level advanced placement course offered to sophomores at the Fairfax County, Va., school.

"It's not right," Fuentes said. "The rights of students are being violated left and right."

Relying solely on their textbooks and lecture notes, "they're not given all sides," Fuentes said. "They're analyzing when they're only given one interpretation of history."

Paul Regnier, spokesman for the Fairfax County Public School District, said most parents signed the AP World History integrity form and sent it back within three days.

"The idea was to think for yourself," he said, "rather than to pick up something from somewhere else and parrot it back."

"It's a little tongue-in cheek from the teachers," Regnier said.

Principal Reviewing Merits of History 'Integrity' Form

But some parents aren't laughing.

Though Regnier said Fuentes was the only parent to respond to the document, Fuentes said there is a group that see the "Expectations of Integrity" as violating students' rights.

Cheryl Royal, whose daughter took AP World History last year and was not subjected to the new rules, called the form "ridiculous."

"I would hope that I would have looked at it and thought it was over the top," she said.

Punishment for violating the expectations includes a grade of zero on the assignment and a referral for an honor code violation. Consqeuences for violating the honor code range from a note in the student's file to a recommendation for explusion, depending on the severity of the violation.

Fuentes said she had also heard from another parent who signed the form -- one of several the students were sent home with -- without reading it thoroughly and was later embarrassed to have done so.

Principal Tim Thomas could not be reached for comment, but he told the Washington Post that he was reviewing the "Expectations of Integrity" and would decide whether the policy would stand.

He told the Post that the new rules guaranteed fairness among students and wouldn't give a student with more resources an advantage over the student who was limited to what was available in class.

But Fuentes said it was a nonargument -- each student is guaranteed a block of study time each day to use the library, the computers or seek out a teacher's help.

Since news of the integrity form began winding its way through parents groups, Fuentes has begun distributing a packet that includes not only the form but what she said was a vague yet strict honor code.

Fuentes said she allows her daughter to use other research materials if she doesn't understand something in her AP World History course homework and bounce ideas off her family.

"I absolutely encourage my children to talk to me," she said.

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