‘Go Hawks!’ Funeral director licensing OK’d due to marching band experience

By: - January 3, 2022 12:30 pm

Pall bearers carry a coffin at a funeral. (Photo by Philippe Lissac /GOPDONG/Getty Images)

An Iowan who initially didn’t appear to meet the educational requirements for a funeral director has been approved based in part on his participation in marching band.

Andrew Merschman, who had been enrolled in Des Moines Area Community College’s mortuary science program, petitioned the Iowa Board of Mortuary Science recently for a waiver as to the rule that specifies Iowa funeral directors must have 60 college credit hours and a 2.0 grade point average to qualify for a license.

In his application for a waiver, Merschman noted that he had completed the DMACC program, had more than 60 credit hours, passed the Iowa Funeral Law course and passed national board exams, but getting his GPA up to 2.0 would require additional classes and expense that he could not afford.

The tape of the board’s December meeting indicates that when Merschman’s “non-mortuary science” grades were taken into account, his GPA fell below 2.0.

Merschman told the board the problem was related to English and literature classes he took at the University of Iowa before joining DMACC’s mortuary science program. “I sort of, I guess, fell victim to living in Iowa City for a couple of years and didn’t quite keep the grades up to where they should have been,” he said. He explained to the board that his GPA dropped below 2.0 only when the UI classes were taken into account, and that he was hoping to avoid taking another semester of classes to raise his GPA.

Asked by board members why he thought they should consider his request, Merschman told the group, “I’m ready to begin my career and I’m just trying to avoid six more months of school, really.”

Board member Martin Rieken expressed a concern that making an exception for one person would necessitate similar exceptions made for others. Someone, unidentified on the tape, asked Merschman what additional classes – “pottery or something substantive” – he’d take to raise his GPA if the waiver request was denied. “Whatever classes I can get an A in,” he said.

At the meeting, board and staff members discussed the fact that they had calculated the GPA at least a few different ways, trying “old school algebra” and then “knocking off” some of his extra credit hours so they wouldn’t factor into his GPA, and they still “couldn’t get to 2.0. The highest we got was 1.9.”

The board then spent several more minutes recalculating Merschman’s GPA, factoring in previously uncounted credits related to digital photography and world geography. After considering Merschman’s participation in freshman marching band, it appeared the board identified 60 hours of credits that pushed Merschman’s GPA to 2.0, at which point Merschman exclaimed, “Go Hawks!”

The board then voted to table the issue so the staff could verify the calculations, which it did the next day, negating the need for a waiver.

“If we’d had that information ahead of time then we could have calculated that he actually had a high enough grade point average so that he didn’t need a waiver,” board member Seth Williams told the Iowa Capital Dispatch after the meeting.

Merschman said he didn’t know what his final GPA was once the numbers were recalculated by the board, but confirmed Monday that it was the marching band that made the difference.

“I couldn’t tell you a GPA or anything,” he said. “I just know that I had enough credits and it was above the threshold … I was qualified and they issued my license about a day after that meeting.”

Also at the December board meeting, Assistant Attorney General Tessa Register updated members on the impact of a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling that has resulted in all of Iowa’s licensing boards shutting off public access to the underlying facts and circumstances tied to disciplinary charges, at least until the cases are resolved through settlements or final decisions, which is a process that can take months or even years.

The result, she said, is that the public will know what regulations a licensee is accused of violating when charges are filed, but they won’t be informed as to how, when or where those regulations were allegedly violated. Register said that while that this will provide an extra level of privacy and protection for the licensees, it could also be damaging to professionals accused of less serious offenses.

“I’ve got a lot of health boards, like doctors and nurses and stuff,” Register told the board. “If we charge you with having an improper relationship with a patient, like, guess what everything thinks you did? But sometimes you just, like, got into business with them and you shouldn’t have, right? So sometimes (disclosing) the facts make it better, they don’t make it worse.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.