In this file photo, Tayshon Cottrell dons his graduation cap and gown, along with a face mask reading: “Wear it! Save America” at Todd Beamer High School’s virtual graduation walk recording on May 20, 2020, in Federal Way. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing

In this file photo, Tayshon Cottrell dons his graduation cap and gown, along with a face mask reading: “Wear it! Save America” at Todd Beamer High School’s virtual graduation walk recording on May 20, 2020, in Federal Way. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing

Law gives Washington high school seniors leeway to graduate

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that can waive some requirements for students who were on track before the pandemic.

High school seniors bound for graduation won’t be derailed by the pandemic from getting their diploma.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Tuesday (March 2) allowing public and private schools to waive some requirements for students on track to graduate but in danger of not making it due to the ongoing public health emergency.

“This bill will help students succeed in their life’s ambition,” Inslee said while signing House Bill 1121.

State law sets out certain requirements for graduating from high school, including completing 24 credits in specified subject areas, as determined by the State Board of Education. It also provides other pathways students may follow to demonstrate knowledge and skills necessary to earn their diplomas.

Last year, after Inslee ordered closure of public and private schools, he and lawmakers approved a means for the state board to permit districts to waive requirements for eligible students. The new law makes the state board’s emergency waiver program permanent, to “prevent students from being unduly impacted by unforeseen disruptions to coursework and assessments that are beyond the student’s control.”

Under the law, school districts can waive requirements on a student-by-student basis with permission of the state board after making “a good faith effort to help the student meet the requirements.”

Districts must also adopt a plan spelling out how students can request or decline an emergency waiver and how they can appeal if their request for a waiver is denied. And districts must keep a record of which requirements are waived for each student and send the information to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“We used it rarely last year. We worked really hard to make sure they earn the credits, and we’re doing it again this year,” said Cathy Woods, director of college and career readiness and on-time graduation for the Everett School District.

She said that of the district’s 1,166 graduates in 2020, 25 of them received an emergency waiver.

“I am hoping it will be a very few cases this year,” she said.

Local school superintendents said they appreciate the creation of a path for students continuing to face daunting challenges.

“The ability to grant waivers recognizes that the hardships many students have experienced during the pandemic presented barriers that are outside of their control,” said Scott Peacock, superintendent of the Lakewood School District. “The waivers allow us to get kids who were on track to graduate over the line while still recognizing their successes.”

It’s not intended to be a crutch.

“We support the flexibility that the law will afford our students,” Peacock said. “But we take seriously the commitment to making a good faith effort to give students every opportunity to graduate through the existing avenues provided by law before granting waivers.”

House Bill 1121 passed by a margins of 85-11 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate. It contains an emergency clause and took effect upon signing.


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