Something unexpected happened at an otherwise routine school committee meeting last week in Burlington.

Parent Joanne Frustaci told the committee she recently learned that Burlington High School has not been accredited for the last few years — and she’s worried that might hurt her daughter’s chances of getting into college.

“As I understand it now the class of 2015 is graduated from an unaccredited high school," Frustaci said. "The class of 2016 will be graduating from an unaccredited high school. How will we know if this negatively impacts or restricts their acceptances?”

Kids around the state are counting down the days to the last day of school. But some parents in Burlington were surprised to learn high school students in their town will graduate from an unaccredited school. What does that mean? Does it matter?

Frustaci was followed by another parent, Diane Creedon.

“I’m genuinely concerned about this,” Creedon said.

Committee member Stephen Nelson wasn’t eager to get into the topic, and put it off until the next meeting.

“I can assure you, your daughter’s education is not going to waste," Nelson said. "We’ve got students that are graduating this year that are going on to some of the finest universities in the United States. Let's not be alarmist."

Finding out their school is unaccredited clearly didn’t sit well. But what does accreditation really mean? George Edwards deputy director of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, or NEASC, which has been accrediting schools for 130 years, says it’s a kind of quality assurance.

“Schools want to demonstrate to their students, to parents, to their community, and also to higher education that they are working towards providing the best education possible for their students,” Edwards said.

The state and federal government already oversee public schools. But Edwards says NEASC accreditation does something government doesn’t really do.

“The accreditation process gives schools a blueprint to help them move forward and help them improve,” he said.

Edwards says about 98 percent of public high schools in Massachusetts are accredited. But it turns out they don’t have to be. It’s entirely voluntary. And it’s not easy. It costs school districts up to $25,000, on top of annual NEASC dues. And the process begins with an 18-month period of self-study, followed by a four-day site visit by 16 peer educators. Burlington Superintendent Eric Conti says that was just a lot to tackle on top of a growing list of state and federal requirements.

"So we chose the government mandates," Conti said. "And I’m not saying we agree they were the best, but we sort of chose what we were forced to do, and put on hold what we were elected to do.”

Conti says their research showed that dropping out of the process would not impact students' college admissions.

Edwards says some colleges require applicants to come from accredited schools.

The Burlington superintendent says they wanted to send a message to NEASC that the association needs to bring its process more in line with all the state and federal requirements. And Conti isn’t the only superintendent feeling that way.

“I think we had 55 school districts sign on to the letter, all from Massachusetts,” said Jon Sills, superintendent of schools in Bedford, who has been working with other superintendents who sent that letter to NEASC, asking for change.

"The requirements for accreditation just became excessively burdensome," Sills said. "And the time involved an money involved really derailed in many cases other kinds of professional development and school reform processes within schools."

Edwards says they’re listening. And by the fall, he says they’ll try out a new accreditation process, which he says won’t make it as burdensome for schools to prove how they’re doing.

"They won’t abandon the idea of compliance to the standard, that will still be an integral part of the process," he said. "But the focus will be more heavily weighted on school improvement.”

And as far as Burlington goes, that seems to have done the trick. On Tuesday morning, Conti met with NEASC and said the school would like to get its accreditation back. Conti says they were already working on making this happen. But did outspoken parents speed things up?

“Um, sure," Conti said. "I mean, we wanted to make sure, we never want our parents to be upset about anything. So I’d say we absolutely are trying to make sure that the right information is getting out there. But this has been a three-year conversation. It hasn’t been a three-day conversation.”

Frustaci says she’s still concerned that school administrators never informed the community that Burlington High School was not accredited. But she says the move towards getting it back is a step in the right direction.