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State may excuse high school seniors from some graduation requirements due to pandemic

UPDATED: Fri., March 27, 2020

Washington high school seniors who are out of school because of the COVID-19 pandemic may get excused from fully meeting some graduation requirements, the State Board of Education indicated Thursday.

During a meeting that drew the attention of school officials from around the state, the board weighed emergency rules that would allow schools to waive statewide requirements for students who are on track to graduate.

The board set a deadline of April 8 to establish guidelines on how districts should assess the academic performance of students during a semester that’s been shortened – and potentially ended – by the coronavirus.

However, the rules wouldn’t excuse students from completing a High School and Beyond Plan or local graduation requirements.

The stakes are high, especially for college-bound seniors aiming to boost their grade-point average and those who are struggling to meet graduation requirements.

For example, schools must consider the case of the college-bound senior who currently has a B-plus in a particular class. She might bring that grade up to an A, but what are her odds of doing so?

The uncertainty comes at a difficult time, as colleges and universities weigh the academic resumes of prospective students.

“They are being extremely flexible, but they need a timeline,” said Scott Kerwien, the director of college and career readiness at Spokane Public Schools.

“There is a a lot of anxiety over how the higher education institutions will treat this,” Kerwien said.

At the other end of the scale, many students are on the cusp of failing classes that might cost them a chance at graduation. Where do schools draw the line at determining whether he has a reasonable chance of passing?

Meanwhile, families are stressing over whether commencement exercises – a rite of passage for young adults that has endured through two world wars – will occur this year.

“For parents in our community there’s a lot of interest,” Kerwien said. “Graduation is a huge stepping stone, and families are worried about that coming of age and walking across that stage.”

As schools shut down early last week, the Legislature passed a law supporting the state’s response to the novel coronavirus.

The law includes a provision allowing the state board to grant an emergency waiver to give districts flexibility so that those who were on track to graduate are not held back by school closures.

To obtain the waiver, schools and districts must demonstrate a good faith effort to address core course requirements and credit deficiencies.

“It was interesting, but I thought we would get more guidance,” Kerwien said.

In the end, it may come down to districts and individual teachers to determine whether or not a student has a realistic chance of raising that grade or avoiding failure.

“In some cases it will be difficult to draw a line,” Kerwien said.

However, should some students fail, the district will “make every effort” to provide an opportunity to make up the credits this summer.

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