In the last summer alone, M-A math students paid approximately $10,100 to Brigham Young University (BYU), a college infamous for their homophobic policies. Why BYU? Because M-A advertises it as the sole online independent study option for students looking to accelerate in math.
The M-A math department offers an online summer AP Calculus A program for students who wish to expedite their math education. After completing Precalculus, students can take AP Calculus A through BYU over the summer, and enroll in AP Calculus BC the following school year.
Before the pandemic, M-A offered the acceleration program in person, funded by donations from participating families. Khoa Dao, a Precalculus teacher at M-A and a former teacher of the in-person and then online AP Calculus A acceleration program, said, “We chose pretty hastily in 2020, when the pandemic hit. I didn’t fully understand the extent of the homophobia at BYU at the time. The decision to use BYU was born out of the fact that it ‘checked all the boxes,’ and that it was a convenient option. There weren’t a lot of great options for doing summer calculus at the time.”
Dao worked with former Math Department Head Greg Whitnah to implement BYU Independent Study as the predominant summer calculus course. Since then, M-A has continued to offer the BYU course to students.
Principal Karl Losekoot said, “There are a number of reasons why we advertise BYU as the primary option for AP Calculus A: BYU is cheaper, if all students go through BYU makes it easier for us to provide support via tutoring, and we know how the course content lines up with our own program.”
According to M-A’s Math Acceleration Summer School Options, “the Sequoia Union High School District will accept the acceleration of students through a WASC [Western Association of Schools and Colleges] accredited school, UC approved online or summer program.” Despite this, the vast majority of M-A students take the BYU summer calculus course.
This is not an accident. Dao said that Precalculus teachers usually don’t encourage acceleration, but for students who choose to accelerate, “instead of denying students, we teachers try to push them in the right direction. Precalculus teachers are like, ‘here’s the door, if you’re going to walk through it anyway, let me just show you which door to walk to,’ and that was the BYU course.”
The actual content of BYU’s calculus course is not homophobic. However, knowingly supporting BYU monetarily makes M-A a cog in a system that has been homophobic since its founding.
BYU’s Policies state that their students must be “consistent with the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” BYU has used this policy, sometimes referred to as the Ecclesiastical Loophole, throughout its history to disguise its homophobia as religion. For an in-depth look at BYU’s extensive homophobic history, read this article.
In February of 2020, after continuous student protests and public pressure, BYU finally—but quietly—removed the Homosexuality Clause from its Honor Code. This clause, added in 2007, stated that acting on or advocating homosexual feelings is a violation of the Honor Code. With its removal, LGBTQIA+ students at BYU were optimistic for a future where they would be allowed to live freely on campus for the first time since the 1940s. However, this hope was short-lived. Merely a month after the Homosexuality Clause was removed, commissioner of the Church Educational System Paul V. John released a clarifying statement which explained that even though the clause was removed, homosexual behavior is still not allowed because it is not in alignment with the Church’s doctrine. The letter stated that “same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles in the honor code.”
So, despite their changes to the Honor Code, BYU can still suspend or expel their LGBTQIA+ students for PDA because of their all-encompassing fallback: religion. For more information on BYU’s current homophobic policies and student experiences with discrimination, click here.
Furthermore, BYU’s policy is catastrophic for the mental well-being of their students. In an interview in BYU’s official student newspaper, The Daily Universe, former BYU student Dillon Harker, who is gay, said, “I have gone to the hospital in the past year two different times to visit LGBT BYU students who had attempted suicide.”
BYU offers no support groups specifically for LGBTQIA+ students. The school’s only counseling services are in alignment with the Church of Latter Day Saints’ principles. The Daily Universe interviewed Dee Higley, a psychology professor at BYU, who said that students are told “that if you just read your scriptures more, if you prayed more, you’d overcome your same-sex attraction,” and that students “begin to believe ‘there must be something wrong with me.’” The only support available to BYU students is the student-organized LGBTQIA+ group Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship, which is unaffiliated with the university and cannot hold meetings on campus.
Mia Fitzhugh, a junior at M-A who is a member of M-A’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance, said that M-A’s usage of BYU is “a little weird. It seems like something you’d see when you’re reading about history since homophobia was so widespread back then. If I look at the past I’m not surprised when I see lot of things connected to a homophobic institution, but seeing it with my own school in Menlo Park—such an inclusive school—it’s really odd.”
The Sequoia Union High School District states in its Board Policy under Title IX that “The Board shall promote programs which ensure that discriminatory practices are eliminated in all district activities.”
Iris Stevenson, a junior at M-A, said, “I think presenting BYU as the best option for students is contradictory to M-A’s motto of ‘Strength in Diversity,’ because if they’re really wanting to promote diversity, they shouldn’t be referring students to a homophobic university.”
Until recently, I was under the impression that the only program M-A would accept credits from was BYU. Despite the fact that M-A’s List of Summer Acceleration Programs says that “Menlo-Atherton High School does not endorse or recommend a specific school, program, or institution for concurrent enrollment,” the way they present the material clearly funnels students into the BYU program by presenting students with step-by-step instructions on how to register for the accelerated math course. These instructions explicitly state, “Students will enroll in BYU’s online course BYU AP CALC 61 [emphasis mine].”
Stevenson said, “Even though they didn’t explicitly say that we had to go to BYU, that seemed to be the only option in the already limited information I was given about the course.” Stevenson said students were given “the most information about BYU: as a course, how to register, how to send your transcript, et cetera. It didn’t seem to me that there was an option to take the course with another university.”
Dao clarified that BYU’s calculus course wasn’t any better than its alternatives—if students want to use another program, they can. He said, “The point is that calculus is calculus.” The only reason most students go to BYU, according to Dao, was because “It’s easier for students to study with each other if they’re all taking the same course. It’s just that a lot of students don’t know what’s out there so it was easier to just follow what the school suggested, which was BYU.”
M-A directs students to BYU for P.E., Government, and Economics credits as well. When Fitzhugh was looking to get her P.E. credits outside of school, her counselor recommended BYU. She said, “When I was looking for P.E. courses, I hadn’t even heard of alternatives to BYU.”
Despite these policies, M-A did have a reason for choosing BYU. In addition to “checking all the boxes,” BYU was also the most affordable of all the online options.
Kristen Bryan, a Calculus teacher at M-A, said, “There’s a host of online courses that are accredited, but I think they went with BYU because they were trying to use something affordable enough that the school can pay the tuition for students who can’t afford it.”
At first glance, this seems correct. Of all the private online courses listed on M-A’s List of Acceleration Programs, BYU is the second cheapest, behind only the University of Nebraska High School. The following are the prices for one-semester online courses at all the universities M-A lists:
- APEX: $380
- Brigham Young University (BYU): $289
- Fusion: $3,400
- High Bluff Academy: $1350
- Lydian: about $4,100 ($1200 monthly)
- National University Virtual High School: $395
- Silicon Valley High School: $1,500
- Stanford Online High School: $2,815
- University of California SCOUT: $399
- University of Nebraska High School: $250
- VHS Learning: $450
However, there is a way to circumvent these prices entirely. Community colleges in California allow high school students to take classes at any community college for free, including during the summer, if the course is less than six units (a college course unit is the number of instructional hours the course has each week). AP Calculus A, for example, is five units. Thus, M-A students can take AP Calculus A at Cañada College, De Anza College, Foothill College, Skyline College, or the College of San Mateo in person and for free.
If I had known this information last year, I would have chosen to take the in-person course at a local community college, not only because it’s free, but also because I prefer in-person learning. Since these courses are free and offer in-person learning, they’re not only an acceptable alternative to BYU, but a preferable one.
If M-A wants to make AP Calculus A accessible to everyone, why don’t we direct students to free classes instead of a homophobic college that costs $289? Of course there are issues that arise with in-person learning, like transportation, but there are similar equity issues with online courses, like internet accessibility.
Losekoot said, “We will definitely review our messaging, support, and options for completing summer Calculus for next summer. I agree BYU should not be the only option we present.”
Moreover, BYU’s Calculus A has a ‘pay-to-win’ structure. All assignments may be resubmitted once for a $10 fee. Students may retake the final exam an additional time for a $15 fee. If a student fails to finish the course in time, they may extend the course for a $20 fee. Although $10-20 may not seem too extreme, it’s still not academically appropriate.
Assistant Vice Principal Emily Rigotti commented, “it feels like you’re paying for your grade, which is tricky and borders on ethical issues.” In school, it would be completely inappropriate if a teacher allowed a student to retake the test for a small fine, or changed their late work policy because a student gave them $20. This also puts students who cannot pay the fine at a disadvantage. Dao said, “If you can retake every test, then you can get an A without lifting a finger. That’s not fair. That’s not equitable.”
So the question remains: Why are we still using BYU’s course? It’s not the cheapest option, its curriculum is not unique, it has ‘pay-to-win’ policies, and it comes from a homophobic institution.
I don’t think that any teachers or administrators mean any harm by favoring BYU. In all of my interviews, every person seemed surprised to learn the extent of BYU’s continued homophobia. The pandemic forced everyone to find solutions quickly, and, as there were limited online options, it’s understandable that M-A chose BYU to fill in for the in-person program. But it is time to reevaluate our partnership with this course: students have been back to in-person learning for over a year now and could easily attend in-person acceleration either at M-A or a local community college.
Rigotti said, “I think examining who the school works with and continuing to examine how we partner with institutions like BYU is important and helps a community or an organization grow and evolve in hopefully a positive way. The more you can reflect and look at things in this way, the better. This feedback is great.”
Despite having no malicious intent, as Fitzhugh said, “the fact does stand that the administration is directly giving money to a homophobic institution.”
Moving forward, Stevenson said, “The administration should make it more clear that you can take the summer acceleration course from any of the variety of colleges and list some of those other options so that it doesn’t seem like BYU is the only one.”
Fitzhugh said, “The school might not know about the homophobia at BYU or might not consider it too much. But after this is brought so closely to the school’s attention, if they do nothing to change it, it would feel intentional.”
It’s time to rethink this program. If M-A wants to support its LGBTQIA+ students and live up to its standards of inclusion, we have to either direct our students to other acceleration options or revive M-A’s acceleration program. As we are now in our second year of fully in-person learning, M-A should start promoting other acceleration programs. Complacency in the face of discrimination is still discrimination.